Women say Vail hospital fails to report sex assault claims

Hospital in Vail failed to test women for rape

VAIL - After Katheryne underwent extensive neck surgery at Vail Valley Medical Center in 2011, she awoke and sensed something was wrong.

"My privates were totally raw and chapped and painful and I thought and I was totally shocked and confused," she told CALL7 Investigator John Ferrugia.

Katheryne, whose last name is being withheld to protect her identity, told a nurse she believed she might be the victim of a sexual assault.

"I don't think anyone wants to believe it could happen to them -- it could happen in a hospital," she said.

Yet the responding doctor doubted her story, she said.

Katheryne recalls the doctor asking, "'You want me to do a full pelvic exam or full vaginal exam so that you understand that nothing happened to you that shouldn't have?' And I remember thinking to myself when I heard her repeat that or say that,  like nothing happened to me, 'No, I want you to do a full pelvic exam so I can understand what the heck happened to me.'"

Katheryne didn't know what the procedures were for administering forensic exams for rape, also known as a rape kit.  She trusted the doctor would know the procedures.

But instead of testing Katheryne for a sex assault, she was tested for a yeast infection. The test was normal.

She says the hospital staff never offered her a victim advocate, or explained that a “Sex Assault Nurse Examiner,” or S.A.N.E  nurse, would be needed to collect possible evidence.

And not only did Vail Valley Medical Center not collect evidence, Katheryne also later realized the staff never called police to report the alleged assault.

So, she called the Vail Police Department who later referred her to a S.A.N.E. nurse for a full exam to determine if there were any healing injuries.  More than a month after her initial report to hospital staff, The  S.A.N.E. exam was inconclusive.

Our investigation of public records show that 225 alleged sexual assaults have been reported to Vail Police and the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office in the past five years.  Two of those assaults were reported by Vail Valley Medical Center, both involving children.

Katheryne's was not among those, nor was the report of a second woman contacted by the CALL7 Investigators.

Lee, whose last name is also being withheld, lost consciousness after she was served a glass of wine while sitting on the outdoor patio at a Vail condo complex in 2010. She was visiting Vail from out of state, was out with friends, and believes she was drugged and assaulted. She awoke the next day in a strange bedroom and had no memory what exactly transpired the night before. She called her husband who had just arrived in Vail and he took her to the Vail Valley Medical Center emergency room.

"They told me they didn't have the necessary tools or equipment for a rape kit exam," Lee said. "I remember thinking, 'Well, now what?'  You know, what does that mean?  You're supposed to be able to come to an ER and get help."

Lee took critical evidence with her to the hospital including clothing. She said she told Vail Valley Medical Center staff that she thought she had been drugged and assaulted but staff did not offer her a blood or urine test.

Nor was she offered an advocate or literature to help her understand her options. Instead, she was told to go to another hospital in Summit County for an examination. There is no record of Vail Valley Medical Center staff reporting the alleged assault.  Lee contacted Vail police and they took her for a comprehensive rape exam.

The director of the Colorado Coalition against Sexual Assault Erin Jemison says hospitals are not required to report sexual assaults or take evidence unless they believe a crime has been committed.

"It shouldn't be up to them to decide whether or not a crime occurred," Jemison said.  But, in fact, hospital staff can decide, without even taking forensic evidence, that they don't believe the victim and not report to police.  Moreover, hospitals in Colorado are not required to have a S.A.N.E. nurse on staff.

In Katheryne’s case, police found Vail Valley Medical Center’s conduct so egregious a complaint was filed with the Eagle County District Attorney. However, the DA declined to prosecute, stating, "the staff did not believe the injury involved a criminal act and while the doctor report should be considered as collecting evidence, that failure to report does not rise to the level of criminal conduct."

Katheryne has filed suit against the hospital.

Lee's case is still open and being investigated.

Doris J. Kirchner, the president and CEO of the medical center, refused to be interviewed or answer specific questions.  Instead, she responded to the Call 7 Investigators with a written statement: "The safety of our patients is of high importance to the entire Vail Valley Medical Center organization. Vail Valley Medical Center staff work with authorities on sexual assault cases and value the relationship between law enforcement and the hospital. When appropriate, Vail Valley Medical Center staff assists authorities to complete forensic examinations and may refer potential victims to hospitals and/or community services with more specialized capabilities. The practice of Vail Valley Medical Center is to not comment on the specifics of active litigation but to take the allegation seriously and do a full and thorough investigation. Because of the early stage of this litigation, the investigation is not yet complete. The allegation suggesting the hospital would intentionally destroy evidence is unfounded and contrary to the hospital’s mission of providing superior health services with compassion."

Kirchner cited no examples or instances when VVMC staff assisted "authorities to complete a forensic examination", or when it referred "potential victims to hopsitals or community services…"

Meanwhile, Call 7 Investigators have confirmed that following Katheryn's complaint Vail Valley Medical Center emergency room staff agreed, in September 2012,  to receive an abbreviated four hour training course on sexual assault through a state program. VVMC does not have a S.A.N.E. program.

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