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Winnipeg hospital says doctors are now helping sexual assault examination program


Manitoba's largest hospital has brought in reinforcements following the resignation of several nurses from a provincial program that serves sexual assault victims.

Doctors and nurse practitioners have agreed to fill in temporarily as needed so that the Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner, or SANE, program at the Health Sciences Centre can continue to operate with fewer interruptions.

"There is a significant number of people that have stepped forward so we will be able to commit to filling those gaps as best we can," Jennifer Cumpsty, the hospital's executive director of acute health services, said Thursday.

The SANE program relies on casual nurses who normally work in other areas and agree to pick up shifts. They examine victims and collect physical evidence of sexual assault.

Last year, the Progressive Conservative government announced plans to expand the service so that it would be available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The government has also moved to hire permanent nurses for the program and has filled six of seven positions, with most new hires requiring training that is still underway.

The Manitoba Nurses Union has been sounding the alarm for several months over the program's staffing levels. It said earlier this year that some sexual assault victims were being told to not shower and to come back later because no one was available to examine them.

On Tuesday, there was a 16-hour gap when no nurse was available, the union said.

Seven of the 13 casual nurses have resigned this week. Cumpsty said she learned of the latest resignation Thursday morning and planned to talk to the departing nurses later in the day about their reasons for leaving.

The Opposition New Democrats said the nurses are quitting because they feel overwhelmed and unsupported by the government.

"SANE nurses have told us they resigned because they can no longer enable a system that doesn't support them or their patients," NDP health critic Uzoma Asagwara said.

Health Minister Audrey Gordon said the government is improving the service by switching to permanent nurses and round-the-clock care.

Cumpsty said the program has had service gaps in previous years, at times when no casual nurses were available for shifts. Casual nurses who applied for permanent positions were offered them, but only one accepted, she added.

The first batch of new permanent nurses should be fully trained and on the job by early June, Cumpsty said.

   This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 23, 2023 Top Stories

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