St. Joseph Medical Center launches innovative partnership to better support survivors of sexual assault

Program brings 24/7 sexual assault care to the Emergency Department.

Penn State Health St. Joseph Medical Center is reinforcing its commitment to compassionate care for sexual assault survivors with the launch of a new partnership. St. Joseph Medical Center announced Wednesday it is partnering with SAFE-T Systems, a group within Penn State’s Ross and Carol Nese College of Nursing.

Registered nurses in the Emergency Department who have completed Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) training are vital partners in delivering top-tier sexual assault care as part of the comprehensive program delivered by SAFE-T Systems.

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Aiming to serve rural and underserved communities, SAFE-T Systems uses telehealth technology and evidenced-based training to facilitate the development of locally-based sexual assault treatment teams. SANEs provide the highest level of health care with a trauma-informed approach for victims seeking treatment after a sexual assault.

These nurses have completed a training course and are on-call for the St. Joseph Medical Center Emergency Department 24/7. SANEs conduct forensic exams and provide emotional support and expert legal testimony, all within a cultural and developmentally appropriate framework specific to each patient.

“St. Joseph Medical Center has always prioritized giving these patients a safe space for examination and to process their trauma,” said Ruth Sano, director of critical care and emergency services at St. Joseph Medical Center. “This partnership will provide valuable resources that will enhance that level of care and may help improve patient outcomes.”

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Three other Penn State Health hospitals also partner with SAFE-T Systems. Penn State Health’s flagship Milton S. Hershey Medical Center launched a partnership with the SAFE-T Center in 2019 with funding from Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency. Hampden and Holy Spirit medical centers joined in 2022.

At every step of the process, nurses work with individuals who have experienced sexual assault to explain their options, including reporting to law enforcement, medical examination and documentation of injuries, collection of evidence, infection prevention or treatment, and referrals to community resources and follow-up care for a holistic approach.

SAFE-T Systems’ nurse-designed, proprietary SAFE-T Scope technology uses secure video conferencing and a forensic medical device to navigate the highly sensitive exam, minimizing the likelihood of re-traumatization while simultaneously preserving the victim’s ability to seek justice with forensically defensible evidence. The approach combines this cutting-edge technology with the compassionate care of SANEs to aid survivors on their healing journey.

Launched with support from the Office for Victims of Crime in the U.S. Department of Justice, SAFE-T Systems is present in health systems across Pennsylvania. Sheridan Miyamoto, who serves as principal investigator and director, is also a member of the Ross and Carol Nese College of Nursing faculty and the Child Maltreatment Network. Miyamoto is a nurse scientist and researcher, a member of the American Academy of Nursing and a Betty Irene Moore Fellow.

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