Manitoba expands sexual assault crisis response by enlisting 2 Winnipeg community organizations

Survivors of sexual assault will soon be able to receive medical treatment and other crisis services from a pair of Winnipeg social service organizations that will operate alongside the existing crisis response nurses at the province’s largest hospital.

Manitoba Families Minister Rochelle Squires announced Sunday her government is spending $1.3 million to augment its embattled sexual assault response program at Winnipeg’s Health Sciences Centre by placing nurses and culturally informed crisis-response workers at Klinic Community Health in the West Broadway neighbourhood and by operating a mobile response team out of Ka Ni Kanichihk in the North End.

Squires, who said she’s a sexual assault survivor herself, hopes this crisis response model will be expanded to other locations in Manitoba.

“We’re establishing a community-based model that is complementary to the model offered by Shared Health and our anticipation is that all sexual assault survivors in the province of Manitoba can get a trauma-informed response to a very traumatic and horrific assault that they’ve endured,” Squires said at a news briefing at Klinic Sunday.

“We want to ensure that they have the services and the supports that they need to get them on their healing journey immediately.”

The minister said the additional nurses and workers will work parallel to the sexual assault nurse examiners stationed at Health Sciences Centre, where several nurses recently resigned in protest of what they described as inadequate coverage for survivors of sexual assault.

The teams at Klinic and Ka Ni Kanichihk will also allow survivors who don’t feel comfortable going to a hospital for care to obtain culturally appropriate treatment, she said, adding survivors who require medical treatment will still be treated at Health Sciences Centre.

Ayn Wilcox, Klinic’s executive director, said six to eight additional workers will be required to offer to the crisis response services at Klinic and Ka Ni Kanichihk. 

It will take about three months to get the programs up and running, she said.

“We have done some of the planning around that but we certainly are anticipating that we’ll need a few nurses to support this work as well as cultural workers, kookums, knowledge keepers to be able to support this work and and advocates,” Wilcox said.

The nurse examiners at the two new locations will be able to testify in court on behalf of survivors, just like the examiners at Health Sciences Centre do, Wilcox said.

Program could relieve hospital demand, minister says

About a third of the casual nursing pool for the sexual assault examiner program at  Health Sciences Centre resigned in March after complaints were raised about inadequate staffing that left nurses unable to provide round-the-clock care for survivors.

Health Minister Audrey Gordon, who called those resignations unacceptable, did not attend the Sunday announcement by her cabinet colleague.

A woman standing at a podium, holding he left hand over her heart.
Ka Ni Kanichihk founder Leslie Spillett said she and other advocates have sought for years to see the sexual assault program expanded in a culturally sensitive manner. (Walther Bernal/CBC)

Squires said the nurse examiners at Health Sciences Centre have been overwhelmed by the demand and she expects even more survivors will seek assistance now that they don’t have to go “a clinical environment such as a hospital emergency room” for care.

Ka Ni Kanichihk founder Leslie Spillett said Manitoba should have been operating culturally appropriate sexual assault crisis assistance for years.

“But there’s always time to do things right,” she said, adding her heart broke when she heard what was happening at Health Sciences Centre with the nurse examiners.

“We seem to be working on a collaborative way to start to fill in the gaps with the lack of services for people who’ve been so violated by violence.”

Darlene Jackson, president of Manitoba Nurses Union, also praised the provincial announcement. She said nurse examiners who resigned from Health Sciences Centre told her they are thrilled to see crisis response services expand.

Jackson said she hopes the nurses who quit the HSC program won’t be prevented from applying for the new positions.

Support is available for anyone who has been sexually assaulted. You can access crisis lines and local support services through this Government of Canada website or the Ending Violence Association of Canada database. ​​If you’re in immediate danger or fear for your safety or that of others around you, please call 911.