Responding to Sexual Violence in Medicine Hat – Part 5

Responding to Sexual Violence in Medicine Hat – Part 5

The fifth part of this series will look at the role of Dr. Lena Derie-Gillespie, Medical Officer of Health for Alberta Health Services, South Zone.

The Medical Officer of Health provides direction and guidelines on public health policy to Alberta Health Services, and delivers information to the public about communicable diseases and public health programs. With this responsibility in mind, Public Health has developed a resource package to support patients and front-line Alberta Health Services (AHS) team members. This package, used by doctors and nurses, has been distributed to both rural and urban hospitals and includes contact information for resources like the Sexual Assault Response Committee (SARC) and Victim Assistance (VA) with guidelines for risk assessment. “Our main interest is keeping people healthy,” states Dr. Derie-Gillespie. “This includes the prevention and control of communicable disease.” With risks of STIs and/or pregnancy following a sexual assault, patients can be offered post-exposure prophylaxis (medication) to decrease the risk of infection or pregnancy. Depending on the situation, patients may be given the option of having a rape kit completed to collect potential evidence, along with bloodwork and other testing to support their health. When the patient is discharged from the hospital, staff will follow-up with them in a few weeks with any updates. Because it can take a number of months for some STIs to present themselves, patients are encouraged to contact their family doctor or another medical professional for follow-up to ensure ongoing care is available to them in maintaining their health.

Being part of the Sexual Assault Response Team (SART) has been “really, really helpful to AHS to have a seat with other stakeholders,” says Dr. Derie-Gillespie. “We can identify gaps and other partners are helping us discover ways we can improve service to patients. It’s been incredibly meaningful to have their input.”  Because survivors of sexual assault don’t always visit the hospital or police, the SART provides a network of agencies offering different services. By having this knowledge of each agencies’ specific services, members are able to guide their client to where they may need to go next, regardless of who gets the first disclosure. “We all use different language depending on our profession,“ adds Dr. Derie-Gillespie, “but we all have the similar goal in mind. We want to do the best for our patients/clients.”

 “Sexual assault is on AHS’ radar,” adds Dr. Derie-Gillespie. “We are constantly working on it, trying to be responsive to sexual and domestic violence. We focus on our patients and the communities we serve. Health is more than the absence of disease. We need to get out of the hospital and talk to the community in order to address their needs.”

Part 6 available here