The state reimburses hospitals for the costs; still, some send bills to victims or insurance companies
Lawmakers want hospitals to be fined for billing sexual assault victims for forensic exams
WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) – Lawmakers are considering fines for hospitals that bill sexual assault victims for the cost of forensic exams.
In North Carolina, sexual assault victims are not supposed to get a bill for a forensic exam. Currently, the state reimburses the hospitals. Still, sometimes hospitals send bills to the victim or the victim’s insurance company. CPP reported state law already requires hospitals and providers to accept payments from the state “as payment in full.”
Kate Martin, the reporter from CPP following the developments, explained it is concerning for survivor advocates.
“If they are assaulted while they’re away at college, if they are young enough and still on their parents’ insurance, and maybe they didn’t want to tell their parents about what happened to them or with a family member, maybe it’s somebody in the household who assaulted somebody, and the bill is sent to their home, that’s concerning for a lot of survivor advocates,” she said.
One of the sponsors of that measure also wants to require that each county in the state have at least one trained Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner.
Martin said the nurses undergo extensive training to become SANE qualified.
“They are not everywhere in the state,” Martin said. “In fact, rural areas tend to not have a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner and while you can still get examined by a regular nurse or doctor, they have not had that extensive training that SANE nurses had that teaches them not only do you collect the rape kits, this is something you see on television all the time, but you take care of the person’s medical need. You take care of whether they have the medication they need to prevent sexually transmitted diseases or you know precisely where to look on the body because of your experience as a SANE nurse for injuries or for DNA evidence.”
UNC Hospitals offer free training for nurses who want a SANE qualification.
However, Martin recently learned the N.C. Healthcare Association is pushing back against the plan because of a statewide nurse shortage.
“In order to do a sexual assault exam properly, it can take several hours that means that the nurse is not on rotation. There are other people who have to come in to cover those shifts; also, the training, again, takes dozens of hours and if the nurse is not working they’re doing those trainings in the hospital has to find another nurse to fill in,” she said.
Martin researched the allocation and need for SANE-qualified professionals for months. As part of that research, she surveyed hospitals across the state.
She discovered many medical facilities don’t have SANE nurses.
Martin said in Southeastern North Carolina, she found three of the five counties have SANE-qualified professionals in hospitals.
At New Hanover Regional Medical Center (NHRMC North and the orthopedic hospital), Martin found there were four certified SANEs, with one for child/pediatric care. Seven more nurses for adult/adolescent care and two in pediatric care were in training but were not yet certified.
Martin explained this allows NHRMC to have a SANE nurse at the hospital 24 hours a day 7 days a week. In the rare event that there is no SANE on a shift, the Emergency Department nurses are trained to complete kits.
Novant Brunswick had three nurses in training to be SANEs.
Bladen County Hospital did not respond to multiple attempts to contact them, neither did Columbus Regional Healthcare System, according to Martin.
Attorney General Josh Stein supports the plan to get SANE nurses into every county because conviction rates are higher when a SANE professional conducts the exams.
Still, according to Martin, experts believe it will take a few tries for lawmakers in the state General Assembly to approve the legislation, which is supported by advocates of rape survivors.
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