Several sexual assault survivors in Niagara turned away from hospital due to staffing shortages

The Niagara Sexual Assault Center (NSAC) says several survivors in Niagara have been turned away from the hospital because of staffing shortages.

According to the NSAC, the Sexual Assault Domestic Violence unit at St. Catharine’s General hospital also known as SADV is supposed to run 24-7 but it is only staffed about 50 per cent of that time. As a result, survivors are told to come the next day or go to Hamilton or Burlington.

Tricia Cosgrove from the NSAC says the SADV unit at St. Catharines General hospital is the only one in the Niagara region where victims can access testing that could be used for evidence. There isn’t enough staff, an issue they raised seven years ago.

Cosgrove says asking the survivors to come the next day or to go to a different location can cause more trauma and complications. She says some drugs essential to those in this situation have to be administered in a specific time frame and on top of that, “there’s always the evidence degradation. They have to be taken within a very short turnaround time. Some are 24 hours, some are 72 hours and that’s only if you don’t shower,” Cosgrove said.

In a statement, Niagara Health says, “Unfortunately, we have had longstanding staffing pressures that have been exacerbated by the pandemic, resulting in times when we are unable to provide this service on a 24/7 basis… We are very sorry for the difficulties … We are actively working to recruit nurses to this program and looking at expanding the service to a region-wide mobile response model.”

St. Catharines MPP Jennie Stevens says victims being turned away is horrific and the Ontario government should take action. “The Ford government has stripped the nurses of their rights to bargain a fair bargain for wages. The Bill 124. We need to repeal that as well as what we need to do is to make sure that there is a hiring of nurses throughout Ontario.”

Cosgrove says several other SADV units in Ontario are not experiencing a staffing problem.

The NSAC says they appreciate all the hard work from nurses and understand there is a staffing problem but this is a crucial service and Niagara Health needs to hire more nurses as soon as possible.

The center offers a 24-hour crisis line, as well as other services and resources for survivors. Details can be found on their website.

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