Ministry programs aim to identify, assist human trafficking victims

February 1, 2017



Pope Francis calls human trafficking a "plague on humanity" and says combatting it is a "moral imperative." Anti-human trafficking initiatives from Catholic health facilities and systems include staff education, trauma-centered services and advocacy.

During a Dec. 7 CHA networking call on human trafficking, participants heard about two ministry programs that are taking long-term approaches to caring for patients suffering the sustained effects of having been enslaved.

Carly Mesnick, program manager from the Crime and Trauma Assistance Program at Mount Carmel Health System in Columbus, Ohio, reported on that program's efforts to treat victims of trafficking. The Mount Carmel program has treated over 40 patients since February 2016. Mesnick said treatment and duration vary based on symptomology; but, generally speaking, victims of human trafficking have suffered years of trauma that inflicted pervasive and cumulative damage, and they may require psychological counseling and therapy services that extend for 18 months up to several years.

The Mount Carmel program is part of a regional coalition of over 100 organizations dedicated to rescuing, treating and advocating for victims of trafficking. The coalition includes law enforcement, faith-based organizations and many other community groups. Mesnick said, "We provide the treatment aspects of recovery, and other community organizations we work with provide other supports such as housing and case management."

Dr. Ron Chambers, director of Dignity Health's family practice residency program in Sacramento, Calif., discussed a program for educating physicians-in-training and others on a victim-centered, trauma-informed approach to victims of human trafficking. This is part of a systemwide Dignity initiative to create policies and protocols to identify and care for patients who are trafficking victims.

At his Dignity Health family practice clinic, Chambers has led the formation of what he called a medical home for trafficking victims. Physicians, medical residents, nurses, front desk staff and janitors have gone through extensive training in the 
victim-centered approach to care of human trafficking victims, he said.

Chambers and his colleagues are formulating care protocols that include a list of initial screening tests for new patients who have been trafficking victims, and interventions that may be initiated quickly to start a patient on a long recovery path. In October and November the program treated over 40 patients, Chambers said. Recently, five new patients enrolled in one day in the specialized medical home.

Chambers said he and his colleagues hope to develop a comprehensive approach to caring for trafficking victims that includes dental and vision care as well as laser tattoo removal for victims who have been branded by their captors. As trafficking victims are usually uninsured and may lack any resources, family practitioners must also address the economic requirements of providing ongoing primary care, Chambers said.

Chambers said trafficking victims require such care and he believes family practice clinics are a logical choice for providing it. He hopes the model being developed at his clinic will be adopted by primary care clinics across the Dignity system.

He is initiating a study in 10 Dignity hospitals to assess how training impacts medical residents' knowledge, skills and attitudes related to the care of human trafficking victims and he plans to publish the results. He is encouraging medical residency programs throughout the U.S. to include instruction on the care of trafficking victims and has written a chapter for a medical text book on the subject.

Chambers has seen firsthand how training and heightened awareness make clinicians better at identifying trafficking victims. "We see victims we saw two years ago that we missed, now we are able to identify." This kind of expertise is important because 88 percent of trafficking victims have encountered the health care system during their trafficking, he said.

Both Mesnick and Chambers stressed that caring for trafficking victims is a long-term process, requiring a team approach with multiple disciplines and community supports.

Visit CHA's website for information on other Catholic health ministry efforts to combat human trafficking as well as educational resources, posters and information on CHA networking calls.


Copyright © 2017 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States
For reprint permission, contact Betty Crosby or call (314) 253-3490.

Copyright © 2017 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States

For reprint permission, contact Betty Crosby or call (314) 253-3490.