Ottawa Citizen (11.12.11) - Tuesday, November 15, 2011
All hospitals in Canada have an ethical obligation to provide
a "minimum of care" to sexual-assault victims, leading health
practitioners say. Nevertheless, it is common for doctors in
rural emergency departments to refer these patients to larger
urban hospitals, according to health and law enforcement
Rural doctors and nurses should be able to provide
psychological support and treatment to prevent STDs, said Dr.
Alan Drummond, public affairs chair of the Canadian
Association of Emergency Physicians. He acknowledged, however,
that there are logistical concerns about performing forensic
"If you're the only doctor in the emergency department and,
all of a sudden, you're taken out of the equation to do a rape
kit, that means you're going to have problems with the ER
backlogging with other problems," Drummond said. "It's a
massive use of resources."
Sexual-assault kits require a head-to-toe examination to
collect and document potential evidence, a process that can
last well over an hour. There is also a question of
competency: Rural staffers who seldom work with such patients
may fear botching the criminal case by poor evidence-
gathering, Drummond said. They may also shy away from the
resulting justice system-related obligations.
A Mountie in Vanderhoof, British Columbia, estimated his
detachment transports sexual-assault survivors to Prince
George, an hour away, about eight times a year. A nurse
coordinator in Sudbury, Ontario, said her team sees such
patients from as far as Timmins, four hours away.
A pilot project is aiming to improve rural sexual-assault
services in southern Alberta. Cathy Carter-Snell, the
forensic-studies coordinator at Mount Royal University, is
surveying police, health and social workers to help develop a
web-based training and create real-time phone and video links