STATEMENT (6.17.20) RIDGECREST REGIONAL HOSPITAL PROVIDES A RESPONSE TO COMMUNITY INQUIRIES OVER SEXUAL ASSAULT MEDICAL FORENSIC EXAMINATIONS

We are deeply saddened by this new account regarding the local availability of testing resources for rape and sexual assault victims. The recent comments once again bring to light the lack of Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) testing services in our community to effectively care for our local survivors of rape and other sexual assault. The High Desert Women’s Center in Ridgecrest is a valuable community asset, providing 24/7 support in the way of a local Sexual Assault Response Team (SART) and we will ensure our hospital staff informs victims of their excellent support services.

SANE exams are currently only available in Kern County through a county-contracted facility operating out of Adventist Health Bakersfield. We strongly urge those in need to utilize this established and quality resource. As the exam includes a medical component, it is understandable that many seek to point out that the hospital should assume responsibility for this. What the hospital can do is medical screening to ensure the victim is medically stable and treated medically; however the law enforcement examination is a critical component. When a victim presents at the hospital, the emergency department team and/or law enforcement can call for a SART advocate. Once a victim is medically cleared and law enforcement has deemed it necessary for the patient to have a SANE performed, the victim will either be transported via law enforcement or commute to Bakersfield by themselves with our without the SART advocate, which is the victim’s choice. The SART advocate is also able to transport the victim if needed. It is strongly recommended that the victim has a support person available to them during this process.

We know that our remote location and our rare incidence of rape and sexual assault crimes here are huge barriers to maintaining a trained, certified and competent, 24/7 response capability. It is not just a matter of running a test. There is an immense level of skill involved to ensure the high level of accuracy required for results to stand up as evidence in court. The community’s well-being and safety is at the heart of everything we do. We thoroughly empathize that the two-hour drive to Bakersfield is yet another hurdle the victim must go through, during an unimaginably difficult time. However, we are confident that this is currently the most beneficial option to all parties involved, to ensure the competency this specialized examination, testing and care requires. RRH would need to train annually upwards of 15 nurses and balance the testing needs against our obligations to operate an emergency room for medical emergencies. Even then, trained staff would (fortunately) not perform enough exams to remain competent, thereby putting justice at risk during any legal proceedings. Privacy is also key concern for any victims and the hospital emergency room is not an ideal environment.

Two years ago, Ridgecrest Regional Hospital took the lead on this issue and worked with the director of the SANE program for Kern County in an effort to bring SANE exams to Ridgecrest. It is paramount to note at this point that the hospital cannot do this alone. This has been confirmed by several experts the hospital enlisted, including those at the state association level, that RRH is too small a facility to have an effective program entirely on its own. The proposal set forth a community effort, as had been suggested, in partnership with other local organizations and agencies. It is our hope that our proposal is still being considered by all stakeholders in our community.

RRH remains open to the prospect of partnering with local agencies and organizations to establish a certified, full-time rape and sexual assault response testing capability team here in Ridgecrest. We believe Ridgecrest can do better for our victims and we will work to make that happen, by building a stronger support system in the meantime for the victim to help navigate their options and journey to Bakersfield.We recognize the immediate and growing need to address this critical health issue and will continue to report to the community on any progress.

--- James M. Suver

President and Chief Executive Officer

Ridgecrest Regional Hospital

For more information on resources for victims of sexual assault and sexual abuse visit:

  • Sexual Assault Response Team and East Kern Rape Crisis Center
  • 24 Hour Sexual Assault/Abuse Hotline: 760-375-0745
  • Women’s Center High Desert: http://womenscenterhighdesert.org (760) 371-1969

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