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Nurse Cheryl Vinikoor Discusses Highland Park Hospital's SANE Program

Monday, May 12, 2014 12:42 PM

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 SANE nurse!”

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.  

You can Say Thanks And Recognize (STAR) NorthShore's remarkable nurses by contributing to our Nursing STARs Scholarship Program here.