Dec 20, 2022 - News

A forensic nurse shortage pushes Polk County to boost holiday pay

Illustration of a nurse's scrubs, stethoscope and mask, standing with no nurse inside them.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners (SANE) on-call pay was boosted from $2-to-$10 an hour to help alleviate a staff shortage, Polk County officials told Axios.

Why it matters: A SANE staff shortage was jeopardizing responses to incidents.

  • SANEs are registered nurses with special training. They're among the first people to respond to sexual assaults reported at hospitals, collecting forensic evidence that can be used in criminal trials.

Catch up fast: They commonly have jobs at local hospitals or clinics and are on call outside of their regular shifts.

  • The on-call pay assures that a forensic nurse is available when needed. SANEs receive additional pay when they respond.
  • Polk County helps coordinate a program with area hospitals that always keeps two on call — one for adults and one for pediatrics.

Driving the news: Nursing staff availability at area hospitals have become increasingly tight in recent weeks — especially for those trained to response to sexual assaults, Eric Kool, director of Polk County Community, Family and Youth Services.

  • It appeared probable that shifts later this month would not have an on-call person without a holiday pay premium, Kool said. But all shifts have been covered.

What's happening: The boost is for shifts between Dec. 11 and Jan. 2 and paid for by hospital facility fees.

  • Polk officials are in talks with hospitals to increase contributions that would allow for a permanent bump in on-call pay.

The big picture: A national shortage of sexual assault forensic nurses existed even before the pandemic, according to a report released in 2018 by the U.S. Government Accountability Office.

  • The consequences include delays in the collection of evidence and can require victims to travel long distances for services, the report found.

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