NorthShore Highland Park Hospital launched its Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) program in August 2013 after five nurses—Michelle Haussermann,
Cheryl Vinikoor, Lauren Lumpp, Mary Ann Bogacki
and Vilma Castro—completed the extensive, yearlong training required of a SANE.
Kay Meyer, Senior Nursing Director, and Ellen Weatherhead, Clinicial Nurse Manager of Emergency Department, support the program administratively. With five nurses, Highland Park now had enough forensic-trained medical professionals
to ensure that it was capable of providing coverage 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for sexual assault patients who present to the Emergency Department (ED).
Each NorthShore Highland Park SANE nurse has other responsibilities in Highland Park’s ED, becoming a SANE is an expansion of her role within the organization. And it is a role she voluntarily spent one year of her life pursuing. It is a passion project
for each of them, a passion for providing extraordinary care and employing exceptional skills in an extremely difficult situation. [Image: Kay Meyer, Cheryl Vinikoor, Ellen Weatherhead]
Cheryl Vinikoor, RN, SANE Coordinator, tells us what being a SANE nurse means to her and why she’s so proud to finally have the program at Highland Park Hospital:
What is the role of a SANE?
The role of the SANE nurse is to provide comprehensive and sensitive patient-focused care to the person presenting to the ED after a sexual assault. A sexual assault case can take five or six hours to complete. The SANE stays with the patient throughout
that process. We were taught to obtain a good history of the assault, which guides us in the forensic evidence collection. It takes precision and a great deal of expertise to collect evidence including DNA. Though the SANE completes the forensic examination
and completes the evidence collection kit, if we find injuries that require care we partner with the emergency physician to determine what additional procedures the patient might need.
This is an expanded role for the RN at NorthShore. I feel the SANE provides competent care to this very complicated patient because of our training. In addition we have only one patient to concentrate on, and can focus on the specific needs of that person.
What does it take to become certified as a SANE nurse?
The SANE at Highland Park have successfully completed the training required by the Office of the Attorney General in Illinois. This included a 40-hour course, which is done in the classroom and online as well as numerous mandatory experiences before
the state would consider us qualified and allow us to practice as SANE, Adult and Adolescent. In the future we can obtain additional training to allow us to care for the pediatric sexual assault patient.
SANE certification is accomplished by passing an examination administered by the International Association of Forensic Nurses (IAFN). It is our goal in the future to have the nurses certified by IAFN.
Why did you want to become a SANE nurse? How did you begin?
I have wanted to do this since 1998 while I was in the emergency department. I’ve found forensic evidence collection fascinating. I had often observed a degree of insensitivity from law enforcement in situations of sexual assault, and I wanted to make a difference.
I read the literature about the programs starting across the country. I was very active with the Emergency Nurses Association and networked with forensic nurses who were passionate about their role as a SANE, and their expanded role in the emergency department.
I never thought I would have the opportunity to become a SANE nurse, and that there would be a SANE program at Northshore before I retired. It is because of the trust, vision and compassion of the administration of Highland Park Hospital that we have a program.
I thank them, more than anything, for supporting us in this new project. This is not a program that creates revenue. In addition it is a huge change in practice for emergency services for the nurse to make recommendations and provide direction for the case.
I think it has gone very well so far and there seems to be a sense of trust and collegiality.
Before all of this, a nurse would have been pulled out of staffing to care for the survivor for several hours. Having a SANE nurse is often a relief for the other nurses in the ED. In addition, the physicians now realize we are capable of doing everything,
including the pelvic exam and the documentation required for the Sexual Assault Evidence Collection Kit. And since it was such a long time coming, it feels quite gratifying that when a case comes in now, the physician’s first response is to say, “Page the
What is the most rewarding aspect of your role as a SANE nurse?
I think my most rewarding part is when I really feel that I have connected with the patient, that they trust I will not hurt them and that I believe them. I’m also very lucky to be working with people from the Lake County Sexual Assault Team who are
passionate about what they are doing, and sensitive to the needs of the patient. This includes the prosecutors, law enforcement and the Zacharias Sexual Abuse Center advocates.
What is the most difficult part?
The examination can take several hours. When we are called in, the patient has often been waiting already and they are frequently anxious to finish quickly. We have to try our hardest to make that trust relationship quickly and do the absolute best for the
patient we can within what they will allow.
As far as how if affects my family, it mainly affects my husband. I’m often coming home late or not somewhere when I planned to be, but after 40 years of marriage and 40 years of nursing he knows this is who I am. We both have our passions in our work.
How do the SANE nurses at Highland Park work together and support one another?
We meet once a month in the evening to have dinner and review cases. And we support each other by discussing our cases and helping each other find out what we did well and could have done better.
When things are complicated and become difficult we consult with the advocate group, nurses from other programs and our team from the Lake County State Attorney office. They are always so wonderful. We also have a great relationship with the local police
departments and can call them if we need advice. They are happy to help if we have problems with a case.
What do you think are the most important characteristics of a SANE nurse?
A SANE nurse has to be independent, confident, assertive and, most important, passionate about caring for the patients.
This week you can Say Thanks And Recognize (STAR) NorthShore's remarkable nurses by contributing to our Nursing STARs Scholarship Program here.
Kathy Patelski has been a nurse at NorthShore Skokie Hospital for five years but she has
been caring for patients in various nursing roles since 1979. Her passion for the medical field developed early and has only grown over the years. Not content to rest on her laurels, Kathy never misses a chance to seek out new challenges and opportunities
for personal and professional growth. She currently works in ambulatory surgery, but four years ago she jumped at the opportunity to become a part of the Patient Education Program at the NorthShore Total Joint Replacement Center. In these patient-focused classes,
she prepares prospective total joint replacement patients for the journey ahead.
As part of Nurses Week, Kathy tells us what first inspired her to become a nurse and why a “thank you” from a patient means so much:
What brought you to nursing? Was there something that inspired this career choice?
Many years ago, I used to watch Marcus Welby, M.D. and some of the other medical shows on TV and I just thought, that looks like such a cool, fun thing to do. And that’s just where it all started.
From there, I started as a nursing assistant when I was in high school, and even before that I was a candy striper. Throughout, I always thought, this feels good. I can do this. As I was going through college in nursing school, a good friend’s father, who
was an anesthesiologist, gave me some advice. He told me that when I got out of school, I should go immediately to an ICU or an ER. He said, “That is where you continue your education. That’s where you don’t develop bad habits. That’s where you get all the
good habits.” He emphasized, “Go to those two departments and you will become a better nurse because you will have to.” And it’s true because you have to think on your feet and react quickly.
So that’s what I did. I listened to him and I worked in the ICU for many years, and, now ambulatory surgery. And now with NorthShore, I have this nice perk of working with joint patients.
You work in ambulatory surgery at NorthShore but you're also part of the Patient Education Program at NorthShore’s Total Joint Replacement Center. What role do you play in the patient education process?
The Patient Education Program guides patients through the entire process of total joint replacement. Patients are asked to attend a class prior to surgery conducted by specially trained nurses. The class educates patients on how to achieve the best possible
outcome before, during and after surgery.]
Patients come in just wanting to have a knee or a hip replaced. And in our experience, patients aren’t necessarily breaking down our doors to come to the class, which isn’t required but recommended prior to surgery. Most are told that they need to come by
their doctors. But at the end of every class I heard, “You know I really didn’t want to come. I was really pushing my doctor not to make me come, but I’m so glad I did. It put my mind at ease. I’m not as afraid as I used to be.” And I like being a part of
The nurses who teach the classes get to help patients know more and be less afraid. They’ve heard lots of different information from friends, family and all kinds of people telling what this surgery is going to be like. Some come to the classes and they
are in so much pain, hobbling and limping. They’re using canes and walkers and they are just looking miserable. And to be a part their transition … that’s a great thing to see.
Why do you think educating patients is so important?
Patients that are educated understand what’s coming. The nurses on the floor can always tell if a patient has been to class or not. The educated patient knows what the treatment plan is and they know what their part in it is as well. The patients that
have been to class are like, “Okay let’s get going. Let’s get moving and do it.”
Orthopaedics isn’t part of your day-to-day job in the ambulatory surgery department. Why did you decide to take on an extra task like this?
I thought it was a neat opportunity. I had worked orthopaedics years and years ago while I was still in nursing school. It’s something in medicine that is great to see. Patients come in one way—hurting and in a lot of pain—and then they leave almost
with a new lease on life. They’re just feeling so much better and they can see that their walking, sitting, bending are in a better place, and will only improve. When the opportunity to be a part of it arose, I thought I should give it a try.
It’s a great spectrum of experience. So while we don’t directly oversee the care of the patients after surgery, we do have input into their care. And it is fun to teach a patient class and then see them the day of surgery. They come in and they are little
nervous and then they see your face, a face they recognize, and they immediately feel that someone’s in their corner, someone is going to take care of them.
And then I always see them after and ask, “Did the class help?” And 99 percent answer, “Everything you said, it happened exactly as you said it would.” When a patient says that what I taught helped, that’s music to my ears.
Do you have a favorite memory from your career thus far?
It’s just when patients thank you. Not just a, “Hey thanks,” but when it is from their heart. You can tell. Or when someone from their family comes up to you to say that you really made a difference in how we handled this process, when they just genuinely
want to say thank you. You didn’t do anything but do your job, but they appreciate it so it feels good.
This week you can Say Thanks And
Recognize (STAR) NorthShore's remarkable nurses by contributing to our Nursing STARs Scholarship Program