That’s the topic of a free American Hospital Association webinar slated for this Thursday afternoon. It will feature two of the leading health care providers on this front — Catholic Health Initiatives, Inglewood, Colo., and Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, the latter of which started a clinic for human trafficking survivors that has  treated more than 80 individuals since opening in April 2015.

According to Mass General's Human Trafficking Initiative resource page, nearly 21 million people are trapped in forced labor and sexual exploitation each year worldwide. Almost 88 percent of those trafficked in the U.S. say they were examined in a health care facility during that time. That’s why everyone in the hospital must play a role in addressing this issue, says Wendy Macias-Konstantopoulos, M.D., director of the initiative at Mass General.

Educating all staffers on how to spot the red flags is an important first step. “We need more eyes and ears in the hospital than we have right now,” she says. “From the reception staff that sits behind the desk all the way to the M.D., everyone needs to be aware of this, in the same way that we would want to be able to detect child abuse when it’s happening. We need everyone in the game and trying to make sure that we have eyes and ears.”

Thursday’s webinar — which is part of the association’s Hospitals Against Violence initiative, and is presented by Hospitals in Pursuit of Excellence and the Association for Community Health Improvement — will explore the issue of human trafficking, and delve into approaches that providers like CHI and Mass General are taking to address it.

Mass General notes that human trafficking cases have been reported in all 50 states, with both U.S. citizens and foreign nationals falling victim. CHI, for one, serves both rural and urban communities, and has seen the problem pop up everywhere, says Laura Krausa, system director, advocacy. All hospitals must make addressing this issue a priority, regardless of their location, she believes. 

“It exists absolutely everywhere. There is no place that’s untouched,” she says. “Oftentimes, people are shocked when they read in the paper about it happening right in their own backyard, but it is there. We’re just beginning the educational phase, as far as I’m concerned, even though we’ve been doing this for several years now. It’s still a growing process, and we need to make sure that everyone is thoroughly engaged and aware of this issue.”