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Saint Thomas Rutherford and Saint Thomas River Park Hospitals Provide Comprehensive Services to People Who Have Been Sexually Assaulted

May 5th 2017

Contact: Nick Paranjape, (615) 284-1210, Nick.Paranjape@STH.ORG

With 1 in five women and 1 in 71 men experiencing rape or attempted rape at some time in their lives, Saint Thomas Rutherford Hospital (STRH) has made its sexual assault treatment program a key priority over the past 10 years.  Saint Thomas Health is part of Ascension, the nation’s largest Catholic and non-profit health system.

Debbie Curtis, MSN, APN, CEN, SANE-Ais a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) in the Emergency Department at STRH, and has worked at STRH since 1988.  She received SANE certification (SANE-A) in 2007 for adults and adolescents.  SANE nurses are specifically trained in providing medical care for people who have been sexually assaulted, including the meticulous process of collecting evidence for possible use in court, while meeting the patient’s physical and emotional needs.

In addition to her work as a SANE-A, Curtis also serves as President of the Rutherford County Sexual Assault Response Team, a local nonprofit made up of members from every law enforcement agency in the County, the District Attorney’s Office, nurses from area hospitals and representatives from the local domestic violence and sexual assault program.

Curtis says the problem of sexual assault is multi-faceted and requires a community response.  “The idea is that we are stronger together, and we want the entire Rutherford County community to know that sexual assault is a serious problem that we can all help solve,” Curtis said. “Every person has a role to play, big or small, and together we can create a strong ripple effect of change.  From modeling healthy behaviors to verbally addressing inappropriate conduct to intervening if we witness sexual assault, there is an action each one of us can take.”

STRH has one nurse who is SANE-certified and two SANE-trained nurses; the hospital sees an average of two people each week who have been sexually assaulted.  STRH’s sexual assault treatment protocol includes a free comprehensive medical forensic exam, which includes obtaining a medical history, collecting evidence, offering information and support about legal and medical options, providing sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy prevention medications, evaluating for injuries and illnesses, providing a change of clothing, toiletries and a place to shower after the exam, and providing referrals for follow-up care including counseling and medical treatment.  The patient may accept or decline any part of the exam or suggested treatment.

“We want every person in Rutherford County to know that Saint Thomas Rutherford Hospital is a safe place where sexual assault patients can receive compassionate medical care and have forensic evidence collected,” Curtis said.  “We are here to help, listen and provide support, and the patient is always in control.”  Curtis is asked frequently to consult and speak across the state to help improve sexual assault awareness and services for communities; she helped write state laws regarding sexual assault and recently was invited by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation to improve their sexual assault kits. 

Just 40 miles away, in McMinnville, Saint Thomas River Park Hospital (STRPH) began focusing on more comprehensive sexual assault services in 2013.  Jessica Bost, a lifelong resident of the area and an RN, received SANE training.

“As a community, we need to provide strong assistance to people who have been sexually assaulted,” Bost said.  “I didn’t just wake up one day and decide to be a sexual assault nurse.”  As an ER nurse early in her career, she lived in Indiana, and first became aware of the SANE program by working with another nurse who was SANE-certified. “Patients came from all over the state to be seen there by her,” Bost said.

Bost began her own sexual assault training in 2008.  Shortly after that time, she moved back to Tennessee and began working in Nashville at a hospital that did not use SANE nurses, and in 2013, moved to McMinnville and began working at Saint Thomas River Park Hospital as the house supervisor.  Soon, she also enrolled in training to become a SANE nurse.

Now, Bost serves on the Child Protection Investigation Team for the Child Advocacy Center in McMinnville, a collaborative group made up of law enforcement, Department of Children’s Services staff, judicial staff and Child Advocacy Center staff.

Bost also serves on the Board of Directors for Families in Crisis. “We recently received a $50,000 grant for sexual assault services,” Bost said, “which allowed us to hire a sexual assault patient advocate.” In addition, within the past year, Bost has helped start a Sexual Assault Response Team (SART) through the McMinnville District Attorney’s office.  “We meet every three months. When you have several different people taking care of one person who has been sexually assaulted, we want to make sure everyone is on the same page,” she said.  “Together, we have a voice. If something isn’t right, we can fix it. If something is right, we can make it better.”



In Tennessee, Ascension’s Saint Thomas Health operates nine hospitals in addition to a comprehensive network of affiliated joint ventures, medical practices, clinics and rehabilitation facilities that cover a 68-county area and employ more than 8,000 associates.  Across the state, Saint Thomas Health provided more than $78 million in community benefit and care of persons living in poverty in fiscal year 2016.  Serving Tennessee for 15 years, Ascension is a faith-based healthcare organization committed to delivering compassionate, personalized care to all, with special attention to persons living in poverty and those most vulnerable.  Ascension is the largest non-profit health system in the U.S. and the world’s largest Catholic health system, operating 2,500 sites of care – including 141 hospitals and more than 30 senior living facilities – in 24 states and the District of Columbia.   Visit www.sthealth.com

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