New technology improves sexual-assault exams at Logan Health

·4 min read

Apr. 8—Logan Health Medical Center recently added new technology aimed at improving examinations of sexual-assault victims.

The Kalispell medical facility's Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner program last month purchased the equipment after securing grants through the BNSF Foundation, Sample Foundation and the Logan Health Foundation.

The $25,000 Cortexflo machine is designed specifically for sexual-assault exams, and is touted as simple to use, reliable and secure.

"This is our Cadillac," Annalise Wilson, the hospital's SANE program coordinator, said about the new device. "This does everything we need and then some."

Professionally trained nurse examiners use the Cortexflo to collect photo and video evidence that law enforcement can use in potential sexual-assault cases. Voice control and foot pedal features allows a nurse to work hands-free, while the machine's digital imaging provides precise photographs needed for evidence kits. Special filters and alternative light sources help to better identify bodily fluids or bruises.

When the exam is complete, the data is stored on a secure server that is separate from traditional medical records to ensure privacy, Wilson noted.

The machine is a big upgrade from equipment used when the SANE program started at Logan Health about 22 years ago, when nurses used film cameras and flashlights to collect the evidence.

The overall patient experience is less stressful as well, thanks to faster processing, Wilson said.

"We capture great photos the first time," she said. "And we're able to educate the patient as we're doing [the exam].

The simplicity also allows the nurse to focus on the patient, and not be distracted by clumsy camerawork.

"Our job is to let the patient know they're OK," Wilson added.

LOGAN HEALTH'S sexual assault nurse examiners work closely with local law enforcement and the judicial system. Seven trained nurses are on-call 24/7 and can respond within an hour.

A separate SANE suite was added to the emergency department when the facility was expanded in 2017, offering patients a private entrance, exam space, waiting room and shower facilities.

If the victim is over the age of 18, they are given the option of choosing whether or not they want to report the incident to the police. If they choose to do so, a SANE nurse contacts law enforcement and gathers information. The nurse then completes a sexual-assault kit.

People who opt against immediately reporting the assault can still go through the evidence collection process, and the kit is kept with the Montana Department of Justice for up to a year.

The Logan Health program processes about 100 sexual-assault evidence kits a year. Nurses see victims of all ages, Wilson said, from communities as far away as Browning, Polson and Libby.

Former SANE program coordinator Debbie Mulcahy expects that number will rise as the valley's population increases.

"Our numbers definitely aren't going down, and I have a feeling they'll continue to increase each year, unfortunately," Mulcahy said.

She said it's vital to have the SANE program in a community of Kalispell's size.

"The hospital has been so supportive over the years in funding it, having a coordinator and staffing it 24/7 as a community service to our victims of sexual assault.

"To have a dedicated group of people who are wanting to do these examinations, willing to come in and just be there for that victim, is a huge asset to our community."

Wilson sees the next phase of the program moving toward more tele-health offerings to better serve patients in outlying communities.

"We have patients that come over in the middle of the night from Browning or Libby," she said.

A tele-health option will allow Logan Health's trained SANE nurses to visit with patients more promptly while assisting off-site nurses with the exam process.

Outreach efforts are ongoing as well, as Wilson hopes to reach more groups of people who should know about the program. She visits with local high school freshman classes, college resident advisors, as well as nonprofits like the Abbie Shelter and the Warming Center in Kalispell.

Sexual assault victims can request a SANE nurse at Logan Health Medical Center's emergency department, or by calling the hospital's Nurse Call Line at 890-7272.