DHMH weighs in on bill to provide forensic exams for victims of rape in Maryland

ANNAPOLIS, Md. - More people are weighing in on a bill that would require Maryland hospitals that provide emergency services to also provide forensic exams for victims of rape

It’s an issue ABC2 Investigators first told you about last week .  And now as the state lawmaker who has proposed the change works on an amendment to the bill, we’re hearing more from the state’s health department and the hospitals who will have to pick up the slack.

Maryland’s Health Commissioner Dr. Joshua Sharfstein hasn’t taken a position on House Bill 963, but he has raised points through a letter submitted to the chair of the committee that first heard the bill.  Sharfstein says the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene isn’t aware of significant problems with the current system used to assist victims of sexual assault.

ABC2 Investigators detailed last week how only certain hospitals in Maryland are designated to handle victims of rape.  Those SAFE facilities provide forensic exams conducted by specifically trained forensic nurse examiners.  At the moment, generally only one hospital per county is designated as a SAFE hospital.

Sharfstein writes that the current system has been successful in meeting victims’ needs, detailing the potential for growing challenges with staffing if each hospital has to create its own SAFE center for forensic exams. 

State records show there are 156 nurses certified to do these forensic exams in Maryland.  Those nurses are spread out across the state in a regional approach, with training and turnover cited as difficulties in the current system.

Del. Ariana Kelly’s bill, which proposes that any hospital that provides emergency services also provide forensic exams, does not spell out how that should happen.  While some believe the fix is to have nurses travel to the victims at whatever hospital they visit, others say that’s a flawed solution.

In a policy note associated with the bill, the Maryland Hospital Association says the only way to make sure every hospital can perform the exams is to make sure they have the staff already in place. The organization supports Kelly’s bill.

ABC2 was told the proposed legislation is being tweaked and is expected to come out of subcommittee next week.

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