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Avera receives grant to increase number of trained sexual assault nurse examiners

Avera Health has received grant funding totaling $950,000 from the U.S. Department of Justice over a three-year period to enhance the availability of trained sexual assault nurse examiners (SANEs) for victims of interpersonal violence.

Thursday, Nov. 16, is National Rural Health Day. “This grant will enhance access to SANE-trained personnel, especially in rural areas,” said Rachael Sherard, Senior Vice President for Rural Health at Avera. “Avera is continually seeking out new collaborations to improve access to vital heath care services in rural areas; this is just one example.”

“Trained SANEs are absolutely essential in advocating and caring for victims of crimes like sexual assault and human trafficking. SANEs help victims navigate through this tragedy, providing essential post-assault care and connection with community resources and support services.  For those victims who wish to have an evidence collection kit collected, we help ensure that evidence is gathered properly; evidence that’s valuable when seeking justice for victims,” said Jen Canton, SANE supervisor at Avera and program director for this grant project.

SANE-READY: Advancing SANE Resources for Rural Victims in the Upper Midwest, will make SANEs more available at numerous sites, including rural locations, both in person and via telemedicine. It includes more access to training opportunities for medical personnel who care for victims of interpersonal violence, as well as those nurses who aspire to become SANEs.

The grant funds training both virtually and in person as well as a SANE preceptorship program and trauma-specific training for mental health professionals. In collaboration with the Compass Center, caregivers will receive formal support and resources for caring for interpersonal violence victims, which will help improve their resilience. Another aspect of the grant is offering additional support services and resources to victims.

“We hope to significantly increase the number of SANE-trained nurses at Avera facilities. This in turn will help reduce or eliminate any travel required for victims as well as time spent waiting to receive care, ultimately improving patient outcomes and healing,” Canton said.

Project sites include Sioux Falls, Yankton, Mitchell, Pierre and Aberdeen, SD, and Marshall, MN. Additional sites will be selected each year, including partners from Indian Health Service (IHS) and hospitals in neighboring states. Because the project is replicable, the service area is anticipated to expand after the project period, which extends through September 2026.

“We are excited about this program that will directly benefit victims of sexual assault in the rural Midwest, from both tribal and non-tribal communities,” Canton said. Additionally, rural hospitals and their staff will benefit from the 24/7 access to sexual assault nurse examiners, as will local law enforcement and others involved in seeking justice for victims.

“For Avera, rural is in our DNA. It’s core to who we are and our mission. When the Sisters came to Dakota Territory in the 1880s, they came on a mission of education. Yet when faced with immense health care needs including diphtheria and influenza epidemics of the day, they began opening hospitals on the rural landscape of the Upper Midwest,” Sherard said. “Addressing the needs of assault and being there when abuse victims need us with highly trained staff is a need of our time, and we are grateful for this grant funding that will help us expand and enhance access to specialized care.”

Jen Canton.
Courtesy photo.

Rachael Sherard.
Courtesy photo.

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