It took a public nudge from the Douglas County district attorney to get things moving, but it’s great to hear that Lawrence Memorial Hospital has made significant improvements in the services it provides to victims of sexual assault.
In recent years, some women who came to LMH to be examined after a sexual assault were sent to hospitals in Topeka or Kansas City. The practice not only increased the trauma experienced by assault victims but delayed the collection of evidence that would be important to prosecuting the cases in court.
The primary problem, hospital officials said at the time, was that the number of LMH nurses trained to conduct the exams was insufficient to provide 24/7 services. District Attorney Charles Branson, as well as local social and law enforcement agencies that deal with assault victims, found that situation unsatisfactory. Frustrated with a lack of improvement, Branson took his complaint public last fall, releasing a letter he had written to LMH President and CEO Gene Meyer seeking action on the problem.
Branson’s letter focused attention on this problem in a way that was hard to ignore. Meyer said LMH already was working to address the sexual assault staffing issue, but it’s fair to assume that Branson’s letter may have speeded up the process.
To the credit of everyone involved, within a matter of months, the situation at LMH has made a significant turnaround. Although pediatric victims of sexual assault still are sent to out-of-town hospitals that are better equipped to treat them, none of the 18 adult victims who have come to LMH so far this year, has been turned away. Last year, LMH had nine nurses trained to conduct sexual assault exams; now it has 16 with three more scheduled to start training next month.
In addition to training more nurses, LMH has purchased new equipment to improve evidence collection and set up a new examination room to provide a more comfortable and private setting for assault victims.
This is the way a community hospital should act.
It would be nice if there was no need for LMH to examine and collect evidence from sexual assault victims in Lawrence, Kansas. Unfortunately, that isn’t the case. The good news is that local social service, law enforcement and hospital officials have been able to work together to address this situation in a way that benefits everyone involved.