The Penn State College of Nursing opened a forensic simulation lab at its Pennsylvania Sexual Assault Forensic Examination and Telehealth (SAFE-T) Center where students can learn how to care for sexual assault victims and the forensic work involved in that care. The college recently opened the SAFE-T Center to help create sustainable solutions for forensic sexual assault care in underserved areas.

Supported by a $1.1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Justice, Office for Victims of Crime, the SAFE-T Center is a new project spearheaded by the College of Nursing to enhance statewide access to high-quality forensic care for sexual assault victims.

“The lab is an integral piece of the SAFE-T Center,” according to Sheridan Miyamoto, assistant professor of nursing and principal investigator on the project. The center’s telemedicine network lets forensic nurses remotely connect in real time to experienced sexual assault nurse examiners (SANEs), who provide mentoring and support during sexual assault exams. Monthly peer reviews facilitate discussion, reinforce evidence-based practice, and allow nurses to share strategies for working in an emotionally difficult field.

What sets the SAFE-T Center apart, says Bill Hartsock, a multimedia specialist in the College of Nursing and a member of the center’s telehealth support team, is the innovative and affordable technology solutions being created to overcome cost and functionality challenges.

“We needed technology with the ability to capture high-quality forensic images while sharing with our remote nurse consultants in real time,” Hartsock explained. “Many existing tools provide excellent images and are highly recommended by SANEs, but lack the teleconferencing capability needed to make this project successful. And a price tag exceeding $30,000 makes this type of technology inaccessible to rural and underserved hospitals.”

Using knowledge gained from Miyamoto’s previous work as a forensic nurse practitioner and researcher at the University of California, Davis, the team, which also includes Tom Rodgers, IT manager in the College of Nursing, and John Ilie, facilities coordinator for the Office of the Vice Provost for Information Technology, set out to develop a custom-built telehealth solution that not only provides high-quality images and ease of use, but also will be affordable enough to ultimately be adopted for use in other communities.

“We are working toward developing a mobile solution that will combine the quality, usability and teleconferencing capability of existing devices at a fraction of the cost,” Hartsock added. “By utilizing tools and services offered at Penn State that are compliant with HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996), we are building a device that will serve as an all-in-one forensic telehealth solution.”

“We want to increase the confidence and skills of clinicians who conduct forensic exams,” said Kristina Rose, deputy director for the Office for Victims of Crime. “With support from the SAFE-T Center, we will retain more SANEs in their jobs because they will know a more experienced SANE has their back,” according to Rose, whose vision is for every hospital in this country to have access to expert SANE services so sexual assault victims can receive the compassion and care they deserve.”

Collaborating with the College of Nursing on the work of the SAFE-T Center are community partners PinnacleHealth, the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape and the Pennsylvania Office of Rural Health.