Lawrence Memorial Hospital and local law enforcement officials deserve the community’s thanks for their collaborative efforts to improve services for sexual assault victims.
About two years ago, District Attorney Charles Branson decided to go public with what he saw as a serious deficiency in LMH services that resulted in local victims of sexual assault being sent to hospitals in Topeka and Kansas City for examinations. Forcing the victims to go out of town not only aggravated the trauma of the situation, it also put evidence that could be used to prosecute an attacker at risk. Some victims might choose not to report the crime rather than going to an out-of-town hospital, Branson said, and delaying an examination can destroy important evidence.
The problem, according to LMH officials, was that the hospital didn’t have enough nurses trained to collect evidence for “rape kits” that can be used in prosecuting assault cases. When no trained nurse was on duty, patients were referred to other hospitals.
The good news is that now both Branson and LMH are reporting significant improvements in services provided to sexual assault victims. Two years ago, only two LMH nurses were trained to administer rape kit examinations; now there are 10 trained nurses and three more completing their training. One of the nurses will be on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week. A new examination room has been outfitted with state-of-the-art equipment in a setting that provides additional privacy for the victims and amenities like a shower. It has made a huge difference, according to those who work with victims of sexual assault. The improvements also address many of the DA’s concerns about the collection of evidence to further sexual assault prosecutions.
Funding the improvements also was a collaborative effort. The Douglas County Community Foundation, the District Attorney’s Office, the LMH Endowment Association and an LMH employee provided about $150,000 for equipment and startup costs.
The work that has been done to improve these services at LMH is a great example of what can be accomplished when various community leaders and groups tackle an issue in a cooperative, collaborative way. Other community issues probably could benefit from such an approach by LMH and others. The issue of providing in-patient care for local people facing mental health challenges is one that comes to mind.
Congratulations to Branson for bringing the sexual assault examination issue to the public’s attention and to LMH and other community groups for looking at the problem and working together to make changes for the better.