MIDDLEBURY, Vt. – Middlebury College is partnering with Porter Medical Center on a program that will expand access to local specialty care for survivors of sexual assault. The new collaboration between the two institutions will increase the combined total of trained Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners, or SANES, at Porter and the College from three to seven, reducing the need for survivors to sometimes go to Burlington or Rutland for care. According to Middlebury College Physician Mark Peluso, who initiated the new partnership, survivors faced with traveling have sometimes opted not to have an exam.
“When we looked at the resources available to both institutions and the challenges we each faced, we realized we had an opportunity to establish a comprehensive combined program by recruiting and training new and current employees at both organizations,” said Peluso. A three-year grant that Middlebury received in 2013 from the Department of Justice’s Office of Violence against Women provided funding for the necessary training and equipment. Peluso collaborated on the project with the grant’s administrator, Karen Guttentag, associate dean at Middlebury.
“One of our goals is to ensure that the students who do need this care will almost always have the option to receive it on campus," said Peluso. “But in the rare instance that a Middlebury trained examiner isn’t available, a student will be able to go to Porter, where a SANE will serve as back up.”
According to Middlebury College’s Parton Center for Health and Wellness, the number of requested examinations at the College of the kind performed by a SANE has ranged from zero to two each year over the last several years. Porter Hospital performs one or two examinations a month, on average.
“The new program also fills a very important need in the community,” said Dr. Carrie Wulfman, chief medical officer at Porter. “If a Porter SANE is unable to respond to a request, a Middlebury College SANE will be available to come to our emergency room for locally based survivors. By collaborating, we’ve created a better way to serve this group of patients. We’ve built a real team of SANES who can back each other up.”
“The partnership between Middlebury and Porter can serve as a national model for other communities,” said Joan Carson, the SANE program clinical coordinator at the VT Network Against Domestic and Sexual Violence. Carson assisted Middlebury and Porter staff in establishing their new collaboration, as did other nonprofits, including Vermont Center for Crime Victim Services and Middlebury-based WomenSafe.
Of the total of six trained examiners at the College and the hospital, three are based at Porter and three at Middlebury’s Parton Center. A fourth, who will qualify in the coming year, will also be based at Middlebury College.
All of a SANE’s services are optional, and it is up to survivors to decide if they want assistance. A SANE examination can be completed whether or not a survivor chooses to report the crime to the police and may be performed up to 120 hours after an assault. The assessment includes a physical examination, forensic collection of evidence, as well as testing and treatment for possible injury and sexually transmitted infection. SANES also help coordinate follow-up care and resources for the survivor, including follow-up testing, counseling and mental-health support, and connections with sexual assault advocacy groups.
“The new collaboration between Porter and Middlebury College could not have been possible without the support of numerous staff at both organizations and many in the nonprofit community,” said Peluso. “This is a result of their effort.”