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Sexual assault medical exam room remodeled

New setting aims to help make patients feel more at ease

Dr. William Kepler (from left) and Jennifer Baumstark talk with Polli Smith in the remodeled location used for forensic examinations of sexual assault victims. The Maui News / LILA FUJIMOTO photo

WAILUKU — A remodeled medical examination room will offer a more peaceful setting for children and adults, as a program moves forward with more nurses trained to do forensic examinations of sexual assault victims, officials say.

“When a woman, girl or anybody walks in here, it’s now something that makes you take a nice deep breath and relax and feel safe here,” said Dr. William Kepler, medical director of the Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner team. “It looks wonderful now. We’re very proud of it.”

He said about six examinations a month, most of patients sent by police, are done in the secure location near Maui Memorial Medical Center. Two-thirds of patients are adults, and there has been a “marked decrease during COVID,” he said.

In work done by volunteers and largely paid for by donations, walls in the space have been repainted light green, kitchen cabinets have been resurfaced and new bamboo blinds have been installed.

The remodeling cost less than $1,000, with donations from the Smith Family Foundation paying for supplies and volunteers stepping up to help, said Paul Tonnessen, executive director of the nonprofit Friends of the Children’s Justice Center, who coordinated the effort.

His 18-year-old foster sons, Adam Anglin and Nick Mendez, did the painting.

Polli Smith resurfaced the kitchen cabinets and helped find furniture and other decor, doing some shopping at the Habitat for Humanity ReStore in Kahului.

“Paul and I had great luck in procuring this furniture,” Smith said, as she and Tonnessen sat at a new table in the interview room last week. “It just kind of made the whole room. I play at interior decorating. I enjoy it.”

Tonnessen said more work will be done in the new year. Jim Doran, owner of Ceramic Tile Plus, is donating $3,000 in solid wood cabinets with granite tops to be used to keep supplies for victims who need a change of clothing.

“It’s the generosity of the community coming together,” Tonnessen said.

Kepler said that after he called Tonnessen about remodeling, “within a week and a half, the whole place was painted.”

“It was amazing,” Kepler said.

The new look accompanies an evolution in the program started on Maui in 1990 when Kepler, a pediatrician, began doing sexual assault examinations in a small room in the hospital. He began by examining victims of child abuse and child sexual assault, then soon went on to examine adults as well.

“For many years, I did it alone,” he said.

Over the years, four or five physicians trained with Kepler to do the examinations before moving away or deciding not to continue.

This year, the team has grown to seven examiners, with the addition of the first nurses on the team, Kepler said.

Three are instructors at the University of Hawaii Maui College nursing program, including Jennifer Baumstark, who is also a certified nurse midwife with a doctorate of nurse practice.

She did sexual assault examinations on Molokai for eight years while living there before moving to Maui a year ago.

Baumstark said she happened to be standing in line next to Kepler at the post office when he asked if she was still interested in doing the examinations.

“It was amazing how that happened,” she said. “It’s just by divine inspiration.”

Also on the team are advanced practice nurses Konstantina Rose, Robin Garrison and Heather Milovina, and registered nurse Constance Williams, who has a master of science degree in nursing.

“The women that wanted to do it were on board right away,” Baumstark said. “This is a team that will be here for a long time.”

Kepler said that after 30 years and examining hundreds of victims of sexual assault, he will take a step back some time next year and Baumstark will take over as medical director of the team.

“This is a huge step in the growth of our team — this area and the advanced practice nurses,” Kepler said. “Our changes will help our community. My dream had been to get this team together and then allow me to gradually withdraw from the team.”

“He’ll always be our go-to man,” Baumstark said. “He’ll always be part of it. He’ll be the consultant.

“I’m really excited about the team of advanced practice nurses we do have. We’re going to continue to offer the service to the community and give that amazing nursing care to them.”

Sexual assault examiners undergo 90 hours of online training, in addition to training in the field with Kepler or another examiner. The examinations of the patients include collecting DNA and documenting injuries for treatment and possible prosecution.

Baumstark noted that patients aren’t required to file a police report to be examined.

“We do want people to know the service is available and it’s voluntary,” Kepler said. “They can refuse a police report but have the examination.”

Examiners are on call for a week at a time, often getting a call from a police detective to arrange a meeting with a sexual assault victim.

At the examination room location, patients also are helped by Shelley Waiau of Child & Family Service Maui, which runs the Maui Sexual Assault Center. Some patients end up at the examining room after calling the sexual assault hotline, which is 873-8624 on Maui.

At the examination room, patients are offered a change of clothing and refreshments.

“It’s a hard situation to walk into,” Baumstark said. “Just to be present for them in that moment of need is what all of us want. We know we can give back to the community and help them feel safe.”

* Lila Fujimoto can be reached at lfujimoto@mauinews.com.

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