River Bridge Regional Center opens additional Glenwood property to continue combating sexual assault in the Roaring Fork Valley | PostIndependent.com

River Bridge Regional Center opens additional Glenwood property to continue combating sexual assault in the Roaring Fork Valley

Elected officials and other dignitaries gather Friday for a ribbon-cutting to open the new River Bridge Center Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners Alliance facility in Glenwood Springs.

Officials from throughout the region gathered Friday for a ribbon-cutting ceremony to mark the opening of the newly renovated River Bridge Regional Center facility that will house the Mountain West Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners Alliance (MWSA).

In 2012, the Roaring Fork Valley's SANE program for adults closed, forcing many victims of sexual assault to travel to Grand Junction or Frisco in order to receive the necessary medical examination and evidence collection services provided by the Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) program.

Those services, along with other resources for victims, are critical in the ability to provide expert testimony if a case goes to court.

Four years later, in 2016, the MWSA conducted its first SANE examination. However, while it continued working with patients, it was often in a volunteer capacity and in borrowed space, until now.

"What we have been dealing with for the past five years is a traffic flow issue in our current building," River Bridge Regional Center Executive Director Blythe Chapman said in an interview. "Our mental health clients and our medical clients were running into our forensic interview clients, and there was so much happening at the same time that we just did not have the space to be able to handle that confidentially.

"We are a child advocacy center, just like we have always been, and we have just expanded our services into another physical space."

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Located at 504 21st St. in Glenwood Springs, the new facility will allow for an expansion of current programs including the addition of medical care for adult victims of sexual assault. The center also aims to ensure that every single victim receives services in a safe, confidential and child-friendly environment.

"The fact that we are a community-based SANE program, separate from a hospital and separate from any other bigger organization just makes people feel a little bit more comfortable coming forward," Chapman explained. "And, our reporting laws have changed so that adults over the age of 18 who have been assaulted can anonymously report and still get treatment."

The facility will serve Garfield, Eagle, Pitkin and Rio Blanco counties with victim advocates, forensic interviewers, mental health therapists and forensic nurse examiners. River Bridge Regional Center will also have a trained therapy dog on site. Frasier, the facility dog, will help provide a calm, neutral presence throughout the process.

"It is wonderful that so many people came together to support this and make it work, and it is something that needs to be done in our community," Garfield County Commissioner Mike Samson said during the Friday ceremony. "It is just great when people come together and work for something like this."

Added Chapman, "The fact that we are separated from the hospital I think allows [people to come forward more freely], I hope.

"And, now that we have this location I sure hope that people start reporting more, because we know it is happening."

mabennett@postindependent.com