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Healthcare providers have role in helping human trafficking victims


New York healthcare providers are working together to better train their staff to help trafficked persons when they seek care.

More than 30 experts in the fields of medicine, social services and criminal justice gathered on Thursday in Lower Manhattan to discuss ways they could collaborate to stop sex trafficking and labor trafficking.

“We want to help this discussion as healthcare providers are evolving and thinking about how to implement this,” said Cecile Noel, commissioner of the Mayor’s Office to End Domestic and Gender-Based Violence, which hosted the forum. “Our response as a city, as city entities and hospitals, will be stronger because of our collaboration.”

New York state enacted a law in November 2017 that requires hospitals and clinics to create policies to identify, treat and refer victims of human trafficking. The state Department of Health published regulations last month that require hospitals to post the national hotline number and train clinicians and security staff.

One element of training is teaching physicians and other providers that helping people who have been trafficked can be a drawn-out process, said Dr. Veronica Ades, director of the Empower Clinic for Survivors of Sex Trafficking and Sexual Violence at Gouverneur Health in Manhattan.

“As healthcare providers we want to solve the problem really quickly and want to ride in on a white horse,” she said. “We need to think about providing information but not expecting someone to disclose immediately.”

In a survey of 76 respondents who had experienced human trafficking, 28 said they had accessed healthcare while being trafficked, according to a report compiled by the nonprofit Restore NYC. Half of those individuals said their healthcare provider could have done something differently. Among their top recommendations were that health providers offer information about human trafficking, ask better questions about their experience and establish a rapport with patients.

There were 2,245 people trafficked in New York from December 2012 to December 2016, according to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services figures.

Better sharing of electronic medical records by hospitals could improve providers’ efforts to combat sex trafficking, said Dr. Peter Sherman, chairman of pediatrics at BronxCare Health System, formerly Bronx-Lebanon Hospital Center.

Monefa Anderson, senior assistant vice president of nursing at NYC Health + Hospitals, said she is looking for a standard tool that could provide training across the health system’s thousands of employees.

“I’m sitting here with palpitations thinking at the health-system level. The ED is just one point of entry,” she said, referring to the emergency department. “I’m thinking about all our ambulatory care clinics and school-based health clinics. It’s not just about the EDs.”

Northwell Health formed its Human Trafficking Response Program in May 2017, starting at Huntington Hospital on Long Island. It has since begun training people at Lenox Hill Hospital in Manhattan and Phelps Hospital in Sleepy Hollow. About 2,000 employees have been trained, and Huntington Hospital has intervened in nine cases of human trafficking so far.

Staff members complete a computer module and a live training course through a collaboration with Restore NYC. Several staff members opt to complete further training and become facility champions. After a four-question primary screening, these champions conduct a more extensive screening for patients who present signs that they might be involved in trafficking, said Dr. Santhosh Paulus, leader of the systemwide task force.

“It’s not just physicians, nurses and social workers. We train everybody. It’s the phlebotomy team, front desk registration, the security team and transport,” Paulus said. “Our goal is to have all 68,000 employees trained.”

“Healthcare providers have role in helping human trafficking victims” originally appeared in Crain’s New York Business.