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State Designates BMC As Sexual Abuse Response Facility

Jim Levulis
Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito (R-Mass.) made the announcement at the Elizabeth Freeman Center in Pittsfield.

Massachusetts Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito visited western Massachusetts Thursday to announce the expansion of a state network designed to assist victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.Speaking at the Elizabeth Freeman Center in Pittsfield, Lt. Gov. Polito said Berkshire Medical Center is now part of the SANE network, which stands for Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner. When a person who claims to be a victim of domestic violence or sexual assault comes to BMC, one of 15 SANE nurses in western Massachusetts will respond.

“These are the people that first hear, listen and see someone that has been harmed,” Polito said. “They are specially trained and certified professionals skilled in performing quality forensic medical and legal exams. Should a case go to trial they are able to testify for that particular victim.”

BMC joins Baystate Medical Center, Mercy, Cooley Dickinson, Baystate Wing in Palmer and UMass-Amherst College Clinical Health Center — the other SANE facilities in the agency’s western region. At least one nurse is on-call for the entire region at a time. Cheryl Re is the associate director for the Adult and Adolescent SANE program, which is run through the state’s department of public health.

“When the call comes in they get a page and they go in and take care of the patient,” Re said. “So it eliminates the need for the ER to take care of that patient. We come in and stay four-five hours just with that one patient and do everything that needs to be done.”

The announcement does not bring additional funding. It was driven by a willingness of the regional nurses to cover BMC and advocacy from the regional coordinator, Mary Walz-Watson. BMC is the 28th SANE facility in the state.

In 2014, the Elizabeth Freeman Center served more than 3,000 survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault in Berkshire County. Re says workers from the center will respond to BMC with a SANE nurse.

“We see them that one visit and do what needs to be done, but when we leave it’s so great that they have that linkage with you,” said Re.

More than 2,000 incidents of sexual assault were reported to the Massachusetts department of public health last year, according to Polito. Citing the surgeon general, Polito says domestic violence is the leading cause of injury to women between the ages of 15 and 44.

Meanwhile, speaking with reporters after the announcement, Polito says the state is working to find new regional opportunities for the 300 SABIC employees in Pittsfield who may be impacted by the company’s decision to move positions to Houston. She says the focus should also be on strengthening the existing local economy with Berkshire Health Systems, the expected Berkshire Innovation Center and the tourism industry.

“That spell and bring together what I think is a healthy economy,” Polito said. “We just need to continue to support it with our investments and make sure that there are opportunities for people to live here, afford to live here and have a good quality of life.”

Jim is WAMC’s Assistant News Director and hosts WAMC's flagship news programs: Midday Magazine, Northeast Report and Northeast Report Late Edition. Email: jlevulis@wamc.org
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