Dignity Health, one of the country’s largest health systems, has been granted $1.5 million by the U.S. Department of Justice to shore up its efforts to combat human trafficking and evaluate the effectiveness of its initiatives.
Research indicates a large share of sex and labor trafficking victims interact with a health care provider at some point while they are being exploited, and much of the progress around treating such patients in recent years has come from small clinics with strong community ties.
Dignity Health – with more than three dozen hospitals across Arizona, California and Nevada – will seek to bring its best practices to more patients, funded by the pair of Justice Department grants announced Thursday.
The two grants will fund training on how to provide trauma-informed care for human trafficking survivors, evaluate Dignity’s processes and expand its “safe haven” model – which integrates physical and mental health care into long-term support for survivors – to three sites from one.
While the health care field has boosted its efforts to identify trafficking survivors in recent years, Dignity’s model provides both immediate care and referrals to community services, as well as long-term follow-up care, a component that often doesn’t account for survivors’ complex mental health needs or is missing altogether in other models.
“Most health care systems promote a patient-centered approach, but I think what’s lacking is concrete education on trauma,” says Holly Gibbs, a sex trafficking survivor and director of Dignity Health’s Human Trafficking Response Program. “If you’re educated on trauma … you’re better able to understand your patient’s wishes, and respect your patient.”
Through the response program, Dignity identified at least 31 patients who exhibited “high or moderate indicators of sex or labor trafficking victimization” in fiscal 2016, Gibbs says. They are still finalizing fiscal 2017 and 2018 totals, but Gibbs says the preliminary figures have risen with each year. Combined, these patients have visited the health system’s initial safe haven clinic in Sacramento hundreds of times for primary and follow-up care, according to Dignity.
All three safe haven sites will be in clinics staffed by medical residents, which is one key to spreading the model beyond Dignity itself, says Dr. Ron Chambers, director of the family medicine residency program at Methodist Hospital of Sacramento.
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