In the past five years, more than 450 adult sexual assaults have been reported in Lawrence. There's a rape in Lawrence every four days. Each case represents an instance where someone’s life has been irrevocably changed. LJWorld.com, the Lawrence Journal-World and 6News are taking a deeper look at what those numbers really mean.
Lawrence Memorial Hospital’s chief executive was on the defensive Thursday, after Douglas County District Attorney Charles Branson chastised the hospital for turning away rape victims.
“We have been, and will continue to be, committed to providing the best possible care that we can at Lawrence Memorial,” said Gene Meyer, LMH president and CEO. “Anytime that is questioned, or that we can improve upon that, our organization is 100 percent committed.”
Branson wrote a stern letter to Meyer this week, after two college-age rape victims were told to go to out-of-town hospitals last weekend so evidence could be collected.
The district attorney said LMH’s practice of sending some victims out of town for collection of evidence for “rape kits” — which prosecutors and investigators use to help solve the case — was putting the community at risk.
In his letter, Branson described multiple examples of sexual assault victims being sent from LMH to Stormont-Vail Regional Health Center in Topeka and Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, Mo. He also said police investigators were often referring victims to other hospitals because they thought LMH would refuse assistance.
Meyer and Branson met Thursday afternoon to discuss the issue, which the district attorney said had been occurring for years.
Meyer said the hospital was working to decrease a “coverage gap” in staffing of nurses certified to perform the sexual assault examinations. He said LMH also is working toward having a certified nurse available around-the-clock at the hospital.
The hospital has five such nurses who have completed or are in the process of completing certification. Meyer said he was unsure how many more nurses should be trained so LMH has maximum coverage.
Branson said his office has agreed to help the hospital recruit and train sexual assault nurses.
“Closing that gap is very, very important,” he said after their discussion, which took place in his office at the Douglas County Judicial & Law Enforcement Center. The two conducted a joint media briefing after their conversation.
“We will continue to work very hard, as we have in the past, to meet 100 percent coverage,” Meyer said.
A hospital spokeswoman said that through August of this year, 39 patients were in need of sexual assault exams at LMH, four of which were sent to other hospitals for various reasons.
Meyer said it’s hard to predict patient levels and said it was extremely rare for four sexual assault patients go to the hospital in a 24-hour period, as occurred last weekend.
Two other victims received exams on-site. But because the exams take four to five hours to conduct, two of the patients were sent to Stormont-Vail “in order to provide them the best outcomes,” said Janice Early-Weas, LMH spokeswoman.
Other certified nurses were out-of-town and could not come to the hospital to assist with the exams, Meyer said.
He said there may be situations in the future where rape victims are asked to go elsewhere if there aren’t enough nurses on staff or because of other factors.
Branson and Meyer also reached an understanding that LMH would send all children to Children’s Mercy, where the staff was better equipped and trained to deal with pediatric patients.