From 2007 to 2015, the National Human Trafficking Resource Center received 2,359 calls from Pennsylvania regarding suspected sex trafficking and identified 1,199 victims.
Pennsylvania’s interstate highway system provides easy access for traffickers to pass through the state with victims; making the Commonwealth a key source of trafficking.
While many people don’t realize that human trafficking is a growing problem in Pennsylvania, Forbes Hospital in Monroeville has identified the issue and implemented processes to improve the recognition of human trafficking within their hospital.
After Amber Egyud, chief nursing officer and vice president of patient care services at Forbes Hospital, was introduced to the co-director of the Project to End Human Trafficking, she realized that her hospital’s employees were not adequately trained to identify victims of human trafficking.
“I wasn’t aware of all of the national and local statistics around human trafficking,” Egyud said. “The most startling statistic for me was the fact that 80 percent of the time health care workers fail to recognize victims when they present for medical treatment across the country.”
Nurses, physicians, and emergency department personnel are crucial to identifying these victims. Unfortunately, education is lacking.
“Health care providers need to advocate and be the voice for the silent victims of trafficking,” Egyud said. “Health care providers might be their only opportunity for freedom because if they are going to get out of captivity it’s going to be because they can’t work, and that’s when they come to the emergency department.”
The majority of the victims who are treated in health care facilities are identified as victims of rape, overdoses, suicide attempts, or trauma. Sometimes victims are confused with prostitutes.
Egyud and her staff began brainstorming, researching, and working with the local Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) on how to train health care staff on the signs of trafficking.
The team implemented a silent visual process and a screening process to identify potential victims. It initiated follow-up calls for the patients who raised a “red flag.”
“We are now more aware when we meet a patient,” said Linda Ricci, emergency room nurse and sexual assault nurse examiner. “This is now something we can consider and ask ourselves: ‘Are they a human trafficking victim?’”
Forbes Hospital introduced training videos on its education website, provided face-to-face education, and engaged the entire staff about the severity of human trafficking. It hosted live education sessions in seven sister hospitals.
“I think we feel that we are able to provide care in a better way now because we are more receptive to the patient,” said Janie Miller, nursing director of emergency services. “We provide privacy and give the patient the opportunity to talk. A lot of times a patient comes back [to the room] with their family, but, if you just give them a few moments alone, patients can honestly answer the questions and get the care that they need.”
From February 2016 to May 2017, 89 patients were identified as needing care or assistance.
“I’m very proud of the work done by our clinical team to recognize the development of this unfortunate situation occurring in our community,” said Mark Rubino, president of Forbes Hospital. “It is hard to accept that individuals would subject someone to this abuse. Our staff is very engaged and motivated to help. Their efforts have had a tremendous impact on identifying and helping those at risk.