Funded by federal and state grants, TeleSAFE program enables more timely care for patients at 46 rural and underserved hospitals across the Capital Region and Central New York
St. Peter’s Health Partners (SPHP) today announced a new telemedicine program in partnership with United Concierge Medicine (UCM), made possible through a collaboration with New York State, to improve care for individuals who have been victims of sexual assault.
The program, TeleSAFE, allows for more timely and comprehensive care for victims who seek medical assistance at rural or underserved hospitals that lack a provider with Sexual Assault Forensic Examiner (SAFE) certification.
With TeleSAFE, the emergency department (ED) providers at these hospitals will now have the ability to contact UCM’s Virtual ER SAFE-certified providers at any time through a secure video connection. These SAFE-certified providers will then guide ED staff through the process of the medical and forensic exams.
The TeleSAFE pilot launched recently and allows 46 hospitals in the Capital Region and Central New York without SAFE certification to access SAFE-certified providers 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Hospitals eligible for the program may participate and offer this service for no cost.
The pilot is funded by $2.85 million in federal funding administered by the New York State Office of Victim Services (OVS), in addition to a $300,000 grant from the New York State Department of Health (DOH). The grants are administered by the St. Peter’s Hospital Foundation at SPHP, which is managing the program in partnership with Troy-based UCM. TeleSAFE utilizes telemedicine technology developed by UCM.
“At St. Peter’s Health Partners, we work every day to be a compassionate and transforming healing presence in the communities we serve,” said SPHP Chief Clinical Officer Dr. Steven Hanks. “The TeleSAFE program is a platform that allows SAFE-certified providers to help our colleagues at other hospitals provide timely, compassionate, respectful, and patient-centered care to those who need it most. We are proud to partner with the New York State Office of Victim Services, New York State Department of Health, and United Concierge Medicine on this new program.”
An increase in funding through the federal Victims of Crime Act has allowed the state Office of Victim Services to fund this initiative and other innovative programs, all designed to improve services and reach individuals of any age who are victims of crime, wherever they live. An exam may also include collection and preservation of evidence, which can assist law enforcement if an individual decides to report the crime. Reporting is not mandatory, however, and should never prevent someone from seeking medical care.
“We are thrilled to provide the funding for this pilot because access to medical care in the aftermath of sexual assault is critical to an individual’s physical and mental well-being,” said Office of Victim Services Director Elizabeth Cronin. “Seeing a medical provider immediately can address those needs, connect individuals with victim services, and may allow evidence to be collected and preserved. Comprehensive care and support can make all the difference in how an individual heals in the aftermath of a traumatic event.”
In addition, legislation signed last year by New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo requires hospitals to retain sexual offense evidence collection kits for 20 years, instead of 30 days. This measure gives survivors the time and space to heal before deciding to report the crime.
“It is critical that hospitals across New York State deliver timely and comprehensive care to individuals who have been victims of sexual assault,” said New York State Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker. “By helping to fund the TeleSAFE program, we are making a difference in ensuring the health care system supports victims of sexual assault and supports their rights to access essential medical care.”
“Access to SAFE providers is a public health crisis disproportionally impacting small and rural hospitals,” said United Concierge Medicine CEO Keith Algozzine. “No one should be denied timely care because the hospital has no SAFE-certified provider available. That’s why UCM is so excited to offer this unique and innovative technology to victims of sexual assault. We hope all hospitals who do not have 24/7/365 SAFE providers available will partner with us to ensure victims of sexual assault receive the care they need.”
Currently, there are only 44 SAFE-certified hospitals in New York, according to the DOH. These include SPHP affiliates St. Peter’s Hospital in Albany and Samaritan Hospital in Troy. A SAFE-certified facility meets strict criteria for standards of care and provides coverage for victims of sexual assault 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Of those 44 SAFE-certified hospitals, 27 are located in or around the New York City metropolitan area, and the remaining 17 are upstate.
The new TeleSAFE pilot program will allow 46 hospitals in the Capital Region and Central New York without SAFE certification to have virtual access to SAFE-certified providers at any time. Eighteen of these 46 hospitals are designated by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) as critical access hospitals. This designation means they are more than 35 miles away from another hospital, and meet other additional criteria.
The TeleSAFE program provides a clear process for hospitals without SAFE certification. When a sexual assault survivor presents to a hospital’s ED using the TeleSAFE program, a patient advocate is contacted to help support the patient through the exam. After a patient has consented to use the service, the ED provider contacts UCM’s Virtual ER to coordinate the care with the SAFE-certified provider.
The TeleSAFE provider can walk any ED provider through this exam, which usually lasts for several hours, using telemedicine technology. They are able to assist with taking a history of the assault, collecting photographic evidence, as well as collecting the best forensic evidence possible. Following the exam, they will also assist the hospital-based provider with completing documentation and ordering any additional testing or medication.
With this process, the TeleSAFE program allows rural and underserved hospitals to perform SAFE exams in compliance with DOH regulations, in a timely manner, and without the need to transfer the patient to another hospital.
TeleSAFE services are also being offered to SAFE-certified centers in the pilot area. For these hospitals, the expert TeleSAFE providers are able to provide expert consultation to examiners with questions during exams, as well as serving as a preceptor for newly trained examiners, which is a requirement of the DOH training process.
About St. Peter’s Health Partners
With nearly 12,500 employees in more than 170 locations, St. Peter’s Health Partners is the Capital Region’s largest and most comprehensive not-for-profit integrated health care network, which provides high-quality, compassionate, and sophisticated care to thousands of people every day. St. Peter’s Health Partners is a member of Trinity Health, one of the nation’s largest Catholic health systems. For more information, please visit www.sphp.com.
About the New York State Office of Victim Services
The Office of Victim Services provides a safety net for crime victims and/or their family members, helping eligible individuals with medical and counseling expenses, funeral and burial expenses, lost wages and support, in addition to other assistance, all at no cost to taxpayers. All funding that assists eligible individuals, as well as nearly all the funding provided to victim assistance programs, comes from the same source: fines, fees and surcharges paid by certain offenders convicted in federal and state court. For more information, eligibility guidelines and to locate a victim assistance program, visit www.ovs.ny.gov or call 1-800-247-8035.
About United Concierge Medicine
UCM’s Virtual ER provides 24/7 triage and treatment by a dedicated team of emergency medicine providers through modern digital tools, including phone, video and picture. This unique approach to emergency medicine has provided patients more immediate access to care in a customized and comfortable environment. In 2018, UCM used their experience as a provider of virtual emergency medicine to provide a wider net of care for victims of sexual assault, launching the TeleSAFE Program to provide comprehensive and compassionate care to any victim of sexual assault or abuse, regardless of the health care facility to which they present. To learn more about UCM’s TeleSAFE program, please visit www.telesafe.org or www.unitedconciergemedicine.com