Support groups for victims of sexual assault and domestic violence say the Ottawa Hospital is taking a big step backwards.    Six nurses who specialize in sexual assault are being reassigned at the hospital and will be replaced by emergency room nurses who will receive training in forensic care.  The hospital argues the changes will mean better care and quicker access.

The six nurses are part of a provincially-funded program called the Sexual Assault and Partner Abuse Care Program, a 24 hour, 7 day a week emergency service located in the Emergency Department at the Civic Campus of the Ottawa Hospital.  For the past 20 years, the specialized nurses have worked with victims of sexual assault.  As of November 1st, those nurses are being re-assigned and a team of emergency nurses will take over.

“We’re very skeptical about it,” says Concillia Muonde, with the Sexual Assault Support Centre in Ottawa. “Sexual assault is not a disease, it' s not a flu,” says Muonde, “so it's more than just the physical impact.

There's emotional trauma that needs a very specialized response so making it a generic service is a step back.”

The hospital insists this will improve care and access for patients. A group of Emergency Room nurses will receive extra training on screening, identifying and treating victims of violence. 

Dr. Kari Sampsel is the medical director in charge of the Sexual Assault and Partner Abuse Care Program. "The biggest change patients could notice is rapid access,” says Dr. Sampsel.  “In the ER department, we're here 24/7 and our nurses are here and ready to care for them when they come to our doorstep.”

The hospital sees about 300 victims of sexual or partner abuse every year.  Each initial visit involves about a three hour assessment and consultation.  There are thirty-four hospital-based sexual assault programs in Ontario, funded by the government to provide specialized medical and emotional care. The Ottawa Hospital is the first to change how it’s going to run the program.”

“We are very disappointed,” says Muonde. 

The Sexual Assault Support Centre worries the changes will impact whether women will even come forward for help.  The hospital disputes that.

“I feel this is providing better and holistic care for patients,” says Dr. Sampsel.

The Ottawa Hospital says the changes are not budget-related.  The nurses assigned to the Sexual Assault and Partner Abuse Care Program will be extra hands in the Emergency Department until an assault case comes in.