SEMO NASV will use new grant to hire second nurse practitioner

Thursday, June 23, 2005

It's a job that no doubt will be half heart-breaking and half infuriating -- examining the battered bodies and scarred psyches of children who have been sexually and physically abused.

But it's a job that Leigh Little says she is about to tackle with vigor as the new licensed nurse practitioner at the Southeast Missouri Network Against Sexual Violence.

"I see it as a chance to make a difference," Little said. "I want to be a voice for women and children who may not have an opportunity to speak for themselves."

The agency, which coordinates services for child and adult victims of sexual abuse and assault, announced Wednesday that Little will come on board July 5 as a second part-time nurse practitioner to help handle a swelling caseload.

"Getting another person like Leigh is significant because of the number of children we're seeing," said executive director Tammy Gwaltney. "We've been searching for more than a year, even though we didn't have the funding. We've been operating on a lot of faith that we were going to get the funding."

That faith paid off, with recent news that the Missouri Foundation for Health awarded the agency a $221,144 grant over three years that will pay Little's salary, as well as pay for Little's training to become a certified sexual assault nurse examiner and interviewer.

That training will certify Little to collect physical evidence from abused children and adults -- though mostly children -- as well as interview them so she can become an expert witness if the alleged abuser goes to trial.

The grant will also pay for a project manager, whose job it will be to assist both of the agency's nurses, Gwaltney said. She said a project manager has not been hired yet.

Gwaltney said that the other nurse practitioner, Kathy Blevins, has been paid for part-time work, but has worked 50 to 60 hours a week. The hiring of Little will make both nurse jobs more manageable, she said.

The need is there, she said, because when the agency opened full time in 2000, they saw 172 victims. Last year, they saw 525.

National standards suggest that a full-time caseload is 250 children a year, Gwaltney said.

Blevins said this work takes a special kind of person.

"It's not an easy job to do," she said. "Not everybody can do it, which is why it's taken so long to find another nurse practitioner. We had some interest, but they found out what the job involved and they backed off."

The job includes giving a medical exam to children who often are bruised and emotionally wrecked. But Blevins said the job that Little is about to undertake is a worthy one.

"We're not martyrs," Blevins said. "But there are not a lot of people who want to get involved at this level. It's a matter of perspective. We also are reassuring to the child -- that their body is OK and that it's healing and they're going to be normal."

Little, a Southeast Missouri native, worked at Cross Trails Medical Center from 1999 until September 2004, when she moved to Tennessee.

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