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Sexual assault nurse says N.B. premier's comments are a 'slap in the face'

FREDERICTON — Comments from New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs’s about a rape victim who was turned away after requesting a forensic exam are misleading and a “slap in the face” to nurses, a Fredericton sexual assault nurse examiner said Friday.
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New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs responds to a question from the media on the final day of the summer meeting of Canada's Premiers at the Fairmont Empress in Victoria, B.C., on Tuesday, July 12, 2022. A Fredericton sexual assault nurse examiner says the premier's comments about the case of a rape victim turned away when requesting a forensic exam equates to a “slap in the face” to nurses.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito

FREDERICTON — Comments from New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs’s about a rape victim who was turned away after requesting a forensic exam are misleading and a “slap in the face” to nurses, a Fredericton sexual assault nurse examiner said Friday.

CBC reported this week that a 26-year-old woman who went to the Dr. Everett Chalmers Regional Hospital last month after she had been raped was told there were no available nurses to perform a rape kit. The woman was told to go home overnight, not to shower, and to preserve evidence by avoiding using the bathroom before she could be examined the following morning. 

In a statement, Higgs called the situation “unacceptable” and said it was “reflective of a process guided by very poor decision-making and a lack of compassion.”

Janet Matheson, a nurse of 45 years who works as a sexual assault nurse examiner at the hospital where the incident took place, said Higgs’s comments are harmful to nurses and distract from pressing health-care issues. 

“We're being thrown under the bus, crucified in the public,” Matheson said in an interview.

What happened at the hospital was not the result of a lack of compassion, but instead was “the fault of a system failing under its own weight” because of a shortage of sexual assault nurse examiners, she said.

“I can tell you we're extremely stretched thin and working short-staffed probably every shift,” Matheson said. 

The nurse said there are five sexual assault nurse examiners in Fredericton who are on call and available to cover 90 per cent of the hospital's 24-hour operating hours. It would take one or two more trained nurses to cover the remaining 10 per cent, Matheson said. 

Margaret Melanson, CEO of Horizon Health, said in a statement earlier this week that the health authority responsible for the Fredericton hospital will be reviewing its process and protocols for the sexual assault nurse examiner program. 

"This patient absolutely did everything right in this situation," Melanson said.

"What happened to this patient was unacceptable. We need to improve this program for all those who will come forward."

Matheson said she and her colleagues feel a lack of support from Melanson, as well as from the premier.

“I took on that role because I simply want to provide the best care possible to someone who's having their worst possible day," she said of her position as a sexual assault examiner. "And I just felt that was missed."

The nurse said she’s heard from two of her colleagues who say they are no longer willing to pick up extra shifts in October until they receive an apology from the premier and Horizon Health.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told reporters in St. Andrews, N.B., earlier this week that the incident was "horrific" and that "it's unacceptable that a survivor (of sexual assault) be faced with that kind of response."

Trudeau said the country's health system is under "tremendous" pressure, and he noted that his government has put an additional $72 billion toward health care since the pandemic began and that he's made a "strong commitment for more investments."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 16, 2022. 

— By Lyndsay Armstrong in Halifax

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This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Meta and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

The Canadian Press

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