SOUTH OGDEN — Just as demand for its services has doubled in the #MeToo era, a groundbreaking nonprofit group that helps sexual assault victims may lose its home.
The Northern Utah Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners’ team of 12 on-call nurses performs sexual assault exams at their location in the old South Ogden city building. It’s a quiet, confidential environment staffed by nurses with specialized training in the exams.
NUSANE came about 13 years ago when a group of emergency room nurses joined forces because they were unhappy with the chaotic emergency room venues that rape victims had to endure to be examined.
But now the city is considering whether to sell the land where sit the old city building and the community’s seniors center. The property would go to a subdivision developer and the buildings probably would be torn down.
City Manager Matthew Dixon said in an interview that the old structures will need $217,000 in roofing and other essential maintenance over the next three years.
Officials think they’re probably not worth the expense at this point, and the city could get $800,000 or more from selling the land.
Dixon said the proposal is a product of an extensive review of the city’s holdings as the municipality looks to contain expenses and funnel funds to essential services. The former city hall is 48 years old and the senior center was built in the mid-1990s.
But NUSANE feels blindsided.
“If this building is demolished and we are forced to leave, I don’t know what will happen,” JeanLee Carver, president and medical director of NUSANE, told the city council Tuesday. “We don’t have a plan.”
Carver said she heard from officials last spring that the city was taking a long-range look at the property, but planning commission consideration last week of a plan for the sale was somewhat of a shock.
Planning commissioners recommended the sale be set aside. But several city council members expressed support for the idea in their Thursday night meeting. Agreeing to a suggestion by Mayor Russell Porter, the council voted to delay action until Nov. 20, giving time for more study of concerns about NUSANE and the seniors center.
“I think the decision is already made,” Carver said Wednesday morning.
In her testimony to the council Tuesday evening, Carver said NUSANE appreciated that the city has provided a home for the nonprofit since its founding. The city charges the group about $200 a month in rent.
“We’ve looked at the options and there are few for us,” Carver said. “Our rent someplace else would be about 2,000 percent more.”
She said NUSANE is the only free-standing rape exam facility in the state. It serves victims from Weber, Davis, Morgan and Box Elder counties.
“Considering the rate of rape in this state, we’re all there is," Carver said.
NUSANE has served about 150 victims a year, but in 2018, the volume has doubled, she said.
“There’s more public awareness and willingness to report” because of the #MeToo movement and related publicity about sexual assault, she said.
“I think that has helped these patients find the courage to report,” Carver said. “The national statistics tell us that 88 percent (of sexual assault victims) never tell, but if the numbers go up, we have an opportunity to help more victims.”
NUSANE operates largely with funds from the Utah Office for Victims of Crime. When the group serves a patient, it sends a claim to the state agency, which reimburses NUSANE.
NUSANE bills the crime agency about $750, but when a victim goes to a hospital emergency room, the visit costs thousands. Carver said NUSANE saves the government and hospitals thousands of dollars a year.
And the evidence collected in rape examinations is crucial to police and prosecutors in gaining convictions.
The city manager and elected officials said they sympathized with USANE.
“We would hate to see that this would mean their demise,” Dixon said. “I hope all law enforcement agencies can come together to find a solution to help them. We are in no rush to push them out, if it goes this way.”
“I am all for that program and I can assure everyone out here that we have not been deaf to their needs,” city council member Brent Strate said during the council meeting. “But it cannot be in that building. It’s not financially feasible for us as a city at $200 a month rent to put in tens of thousands of dollars necessary to maintain it.”
Council member Mike Howard suggested the city reach out to other communities that use NUSANE “and have them be part of the solution.”
“South Ogden has borne this burden, but unfortunately compassion and economics have come to a crossroads,” said council member Adam Hensley.