Facilitating access to services for sexual assault survivors

Pictured: MDC community health nurses, Pip and Michelle.

Monash Health Community employs three community health nurses at the Dandenong and Seaford Multidisciplinary Centres (MDCs) to support the short-to-medium-term health needs of sexual assault and family violence survivors of any age and their families.

The MDCs are part of a statewide service which recognises that for someone who has experienced sexual assault, their health outcomes can be impacted throughout life.

Statewide Coordinator of the community health nurses for the MDCs, Victoria Roberts, says the program has been developed based on a social model of health and provides free and confidential assistance.

The community health nurses are co-located with other professionals in the MDCs to provide trauma-informed client centred care.

“For someone who has experienced sexual assault or family violence, there can be long-term implications and poor engagement with mainstream health services. There can also be intergenerational impacts.

“This model is all about getting access to healthcare in a safe environment,” Victoria said.

“The medical follow up after sexual assault is far more complex than people realise and we are here to support people through. We can help them understand what’s happening and why – all with the consent of the patient.”

Working closely with other MDC stakeholders such as Victoria Police, SECASA, DHHS and family violence agencies, the community health nurses provide opportunistic health care to clients who may find health services difficult to access or may wish to have a longer appointment with a health professional. This involves a conversation around the client’s health and tailoring the assessment to their individual needs.

“We will provide short-to-medium-term health support for clients who have experienced sexual assault and their non-offending family members. The overall aim is to provide an opportunity for the client to improve their health outcomes.”

Adopting a social model of health, the role of the community health nurses is broader than providing outgoing health referrals – there could be legal, financial, housing or mental health referrals required. A patient may require access to doctors, sexual health services, dental services, immunisations, allied health services and more.

For patients and their families, the team can take on advocacy roles and help them navigate the health system and understand health information or review medications.

“Our people might find themselves advocating for someone who needs surgery and work with the medical team to help make the experience safe for our client. These types of things can be anxiety producing events for someone who has experienced sexual assault, so we want to remove the barriers to their access to medical help they need.”

The benefits of the MDC model include:

  • co-located professionals working collaboratively, from a single location, to provide a patient centred, specialist, integrated and holistic response to people who have experienced sexual abuse or family violence
  • nurses working from a trauma-informed perspective
  • better coordinated care, leading to more timely and accessible responses
  • increased sensitivity, privacy and anonymity
  • removing the obstacles to engagement with the health system and supporting vulnerable people to access healthcare
  • developing a sense of trust with the nurse who helps you navigate the appropriate services
  • empowerment for patients.

For Monash Health staff who have patients and clients who have experienced sexual assault or family violence, the services of the community health nurses and the MDCs referrals can be made a number of ways:

  1. phoning the nurse
  2. introducing the client face to face
  3. emailing the nurse (please supply limited detail. The nurse will contact you to obtain more information):

*Please note:  this is a non-crisis service