Mission Hospital Ends Sexual Assault Forensic Examination Program
MISSION – Many Rio Grande Valley people were left with questions after a medical center did away with a program that provided sexual assault forensic examinations.
The closure of the Sexual Assault Forensic Examiner program at Mission Regional Medical Center shocked many survivors of rape, law enforcement and even prosecutors.
Victims in the Upper Valley will now have to depend on one nurse in McAllen for similar services. The only other option in the Valley is to travel to Harlingen.
Hidalgo County District Attorney Ricardo Rodriguez said evidence is indispensable in court. He said a prosecution is nearly impossible if they can’t argue a solid case.
“Not just because there’s no forensic test or results from a case doesn’t mean that the alleged did not commit the crime, but the forensic testing helps a whole lot in prosecuting these cases,” he said.
As of Thursday, Mission Regional Medical Center no longer offered rape kit services to victims of sexual assault.
Ariel Hernandez is a survivor of sexual assault. She said she used the services a year and a half ago. Without the SAFE program, she said her case could have been thrown out.
“Mission hospital has, for a long time, worked really hard to become that staple in the community,” she said. “Law enforcement and almost every single advocacy agency that’s in Hidalgo County send everybody to Mission Hospital.”
In the past, McAllen redirected their cases to Mission Regional Medical Center because they offered a more complete service. The shut down only eliminated two nurse staff positions, but it still created a ripple effect.
Rodriguez said the news troubles him.
“It’s a huge blow, and obviously we are concerned because not only law enforcement agencies, but also our office depend a lot on these individuals who do these forensic tests and studies,” he said.
Hernandez said people have contacted her all day asking her what will happen from now on.
“If somebody gets raped today in McAllen, in Mission, they might not even know that they can go to McAllen because they were depending on Mission,” she said. “They might be, ‘Oh, we have a nurse on call,’ but what if she’s not able to make it that day? What then?”
Hernandez worries the closure will eliminate the possibility of justice, support and a secure environment for those who experience sexual assault.
“We matter in our community and we have voices and we should care whether or not our victims are underserved,” she said. “It shouldn’t be about the money, it should be like these are people, these are real lives, real people who are dealing with this thing and they need that help.”
CHANNEL 5 NEWS reached out to Mission Regional Medical Center on Thursday. They declined an on-camera interview. However, Mission Regional Medical Center chief executive officer Javier Iruegas sent us the following statement in regards to the SANE program:
“While the SANE program has been a wonderful service, we cannot continue absorbing the cost of a voluntary 24 hours a day, seven days a week program, at the expense of other inpatient and ambulatory service our community needs.”
The hospital added they’ll continue offering a service where rape victims can be examined by a nurse, but no forensic evidence will be gathered.
CHANNEL 5 NEWS also learned Doctor’s Hospital at Renaissance plans on opening a similar facility in the upcoming months.
Hospital officials sent the following statement:
“Doctor’s Hospital at Renaissance Health System is in pursuit to establish a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) unit and program to care for sexual assault victims in our community. We look forward to implementing this crucial program in the Spring of 2017.”