Human trafficking is a “hidden” crime, with much of it underground, explains Holly Gibbs, director of Dignity Health’s program and a human trafficking survivor. Health care providers play a significant role in helping trafficking victims, as nearly 88 percent of trafficking survivors report having contact with health care while being exploited, Gibbs says.  However, most victims received no help or information during their health care encounter.

“It’s so important that health care realizes it’s a vital voice at the table,” says Gibbs.

Dignity Health’s Program is broader in scope than some other health care-based human trafficking response plans and involves a continuum of care. It has implemented the program in almost 40 hospitals and is in the process of rolling it out system wide to its 400 care centers in 21 states.

The National Human Trafficking Hotline reported 7,500 tips of human tracking in 2016, up from 5,000 in the previous year. This uptick may be a result of an increase in education and awareness of the problem, says Gibbs.  The American Hospital Association and other health systems have also been working to provide resources to identify and deal with this public health concern.

“Every system need to stand up for trafficked persons and ensure that they get compassionate care,” says Gibbs.

The manual, which Dignity Health is offering for free, provides best practices, checklists and tools to enable hospitals and health systems to create their own human trafficking response programs. For instance, it teaches hospital staffs to watch for red flags that could signal trafficking victims; procedures for responding to the red flags; earning victims’ trust and providing help; when to contact the National Human Trafficking Hotline or other agencies, such as child welfare; and to identify services in the community that can help, such as local victim advocates. 

Dignity Health’s manual also includes resources to dispel some of the myths and misconceptions about human trafficking and outlines the different kinds of human trafficking to watch out for. 

“We are going to see these victims in the health care field, so it’s important to stand up and make a difference for these vulnerable patients,” says Gibbs.