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Advocacy group blasts Ottawa Hospital for changes regarding sex assault victims

New staffing protocols are a step backward, SASC says

The Sexual Assault Support Centre say changes in the way Ottawa Hospital deals with sex assault victims are a step backward.

The Ottawa Hospital says it’s improving its care for sexual-assault victims, but the Sexual Assault Support Centre of Ottawa (SASC) is concerned and skeptical.

On Sept 4, SASC and other community organizations providing services to sexual-assault survivors received a letter from the Ottawa Hospital’s Civic Campus emergency department and Sexual Assault and Partner Abuse Care Program (SAPACP) to advise them of changes that would take place effective Nov 1.

After learning SAPACP nurses would be reassigned in the hospital, with emergency-room nurses being trained to take their place, Concillia Muonde, SASC’s public education coordinator, shared her concerns with local media, calling the change a step backward. 

“We’ve had this program for close to 19 years now,” Muonde says in an interview with Xtra. “When we look at putting it back to emergency-room services, there is no other way to say it, other than it’s moving backwards.”

From treating injuries and trauma to gathering physical evidence if victims want to pursue criminal charges, the specialized SAPACP nurses provided crucial services for people — the majority of whom are women — who came to the Civic Campus for care, Muonde says.

Dr Kari Sampsel, medical director in charge of SAPACP, says the emergency-room nurses will receive the identical training the SAPACP nurses received.

“The emergency-room nurses are being trained to be the same as the specialized nurses that were previously taking care of our patients,” Sampsel says.

From identifying patients who arrive for care but don’t disclose that they’ve been sexually assaulted or abused by their partner, to connecting patients with community resources after their initial visit, Sampsel says the hospital will provide integrated and holistic care.

Muonde says many sexual-assault support workers are concerned by the staffing changes and object to SAPACP’s lack of consultation with community organizations.


“We’ve been trying to keep our community partners, including police, including various support workers, involved in the process,” Sampsel says. “[SASC are] the ones that have never, in the entire 25-year history of us doing this in the hospital, supported anything that we’ve done, from start to finish, and actively do not participate in any of the key stakeholder meetings, agreements, anything within Ottawa.”

Muonde is taken aback by that characterization, pointing out that SASC was one of the community stakeholders that took part in drafting the Ottawa Sexual Assault Protocol, along with local police and SAPACP.

Although she can’t remember the exact date, Sampsel says there was a meeting in the spring with SAPACP and community organizations that included discussions about the changes to the hospital’s staffing of nurses treating sexual assault victims, which she says SASC didn’t attend.

Muonde says that, being under-resourced, SASC can’t attend all meetings, but she says that if there was a specific meeting to discuss changes to the hospital’s response to sexual assault victims, that wasn’t made clear.

Despite SASC’s concerns that this change will be detrimental to sexual-assault victims, Sampsel says a person going to the Civic Campus will receive identical care — except that wait times will be shorter.

As in the past, a person will first see triage nurses, answering questions in the triage area that has glass walls around three sides. Specific questions about the sexual assault will take place in the same facility that’s used now, Sampsel says.

Instead of waiting up to one hour for an on-call SAPACP nurse, a sexual-assault victim will receive “immediate” care from an emergency-room nurse who’s received specialized training, Sampsel says.

“The fact that [Sampsel’s] explaining those things [to Xtra] sounds to me as if she’s sort of making things up as we go because if this is what it is, why not give us two, three pages detailing what it’s going to look like,” Muonde says, referring to the one-page letter from the hospital SASC received on Sept 4.

Sampsel says SAPACP has been communicating with community partners and will continue to do so.

In addition to reducing wait times, Sampsel says, the change was made partly to ensure that the approximately 10 percent of male sexual-assault and domestic-violence victims receive an equal level of care as female victims, saying previous SAPACP nurses came from a women’s health background. Sampsel says nurses will also be trained to respond to LGBT community members who arrive for care.

“Part of the care that we discuss — both from a medical and forensic side of things, but also from an emotional side of things — is to discuss different kinds of gender backgrounds, sexual preference backgrounds and being able to understand needs of communities as far as resources are concerned,” Sampsel says.

From identifying patients who arrive for care but don’t disclose that they’ve been sexually assaulted or abused by their partner, to connecting patients with community resources after their initial visit, Sampsel says the hospital will provide integrated and holistic care.