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Nursing shortage in Winnipeg may give perps ‘free pass’ after sex assault: women’s health worker

Click to play video: 'Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner program staffing'
Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner program staffing
WATCH: Shared Health says five full-time nurses have recently been hired after the Manitoba Nurses Union raised concern over staffing with the Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner program. – Jan 25, 2023

The executive director of the Women’s Health Clinic says she’s at a loss for words after learning victims of sexual assault are being turned away from Winnipeg’s Health Sciences Centre, told not shower to preserve evidence and to come back later because of a shortage of trained staff.

The Manitoba Nurses Union said Wednesday the staffing situation for the Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) program at HSC is so dire some victims are being sent home with orders not to shower or wipe themselves after using the washroom until there are staff available to examine them.

“It’s atrocious, appalling — I could go on. It’s shocking,” said Kemlin Nembhard, executive director of the Women’s Health Clinic, in an interview with Global News Thursday.

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“That’s submitting people to a whole other level of violence.

Click to play video: 'Manitoba Nurses Union demands support for sexual assault examiner units'
Manitoba Nurses Union demands support for sexual assault examiner units

“You’re taking people that are already marginalized, already traumatized and retraumatizing them. It’s just awful.”

The nurses union and the opposition NDP are placing blame for the situation squarely on the Progressive Conservative government.

Last April, in an announcement timed to mark Sexual Assault Awareness Month, Manitoba Health Minister Audrey Gordon announced $640,000 in funding to hire five full-time forensic nurse examiners, including a provincial co-ordinator.

Currently there is only one full-time nurse — the rest are on-call — resulting in overwhelmed staff who aren’t able to keep up with demand, according to the nurses union.

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Global News was told Gordon, who said her government was “committed to providing care to individuals in need” at April’s announcement, wasn’t available to speak to media Thursday.

Premier Heather Stefanson was asked about the situation at an unrelated press conference Thursday. She told media her government is working to fast-track the hiring process.

“From a high level it’s a health human resources issue, we’re aware of that. It’s nothing unique to Manitoba. We’re continue to work to expedite the recruitment and retention,” she said.

In an emailed statement, Shared Health said five new nurses have been hired but their training isn’t expected to start until early next month.

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The promised provincial co-ordinator hasn’t been hired, but recruitment is “progressing” according to the Shared Health spokesperson.

Nembhard has her doubts and worries victims of sexual won’t come back to be examined, potentially giving perpetrators a “free pass.”

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Winnipeg man charged in fast food restaurant sex assaults: police

“The government promised that in April last year, and it still hasn’t happened,” she said.

“That, to me, really makes me question, what are the priorities of this government?

“If they’re not even going to be able to support people that are sexual assault victims, what are your priorities?”

— with files from Marney Blunt and Richard Cloutier

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