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Mountain States says plenty of professionals available to cover sensitive work of suspended nurse

Nathan Baker • Jan 12, 2018 at 11:54 PM

A Mountain States Health Alliance spokeswoman said the suspension of a nurse specially trained to treat victims of sexual assault will not dramatically impact the system’s work with those especially sensitive patients.

In addition to Tessa Proffitt, who was suspended from the system this week pending the outcome of an indictment charging her with disclosing confidential case information to a suspect’s relative in a child sex abuse case and destroying evidence, Mountain States employs seven certified sexual assault nurse examiners, system spokeswoman Teresa Hicks said Friday.

The other specialized registered nurses and emergency physicians are eligible to and do perform forensic exams, and Hicks said the system is working with them to ensure sufficient coverage.

Sexual assault nurse examiners, or SANE, forensic nurses are specially trained to conduct exams of assault victims to collect evidence for future criminal cases. They undergo training for medical, psychological and forensic exams, and are often called to testify as expert witnesses in rape and other sexual assault trials.

The work is taxing on the medical professional and frequently requires empathy from the nurse and trust from the traumatized victim, something Proffit acknowledged in a 2006 article in the Press when she told a reporter and patients, “We’re going to put you in a safe, secure environment. Nobody’s going to know you’re there. We block out any and all information. Even if your mother calls, we’re not going to disclose that you’re there.”

Hicks said SANE nurses are extensively taught about the legal requirements related to their work and the consequences of violating laws.

“All team members, including nurses with SANE training, are expected to abide by the law at all times, and Mountain States cooperates as appropriate with law enforcement,” she said.

Mountain States continues to work with the Family Justice Centers in Washington and Sullivan counties to provide forensic examinations for clients at those facilities, according to Hicks.

There are also six nurses in the system in various stages of completing SANE training, she said.

A Washington County grand jury indicted Proffitt last week on charges of six counts of unlawful disclosure of confidential sex abuse information, two counts of tampering with evidence and one count of criminal conspiracy to tamper with evidence after an investigation by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.

Court documents claim she told Alicia May, a registered nurse also employed by Mountain States and a relative of a suspect in a child rape case, confidential information after examining the child as part of an investigation by the Elizabethton Police Department. The two reportedly developed a plan to destroy evidence of the alleged rape.

Hicks would not say what May’s duties were for Mountain States, other than she was a registered nurse, but said she was also suspended pending the outcome of the criminal case.

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