ALBEMARLE COUNTY, Va. (WVIR) - Staff members at Sentara Martha Jefferson Hospital (SMJH) are working to tackle a global problem.
In Virginia alone, nearly 100 cases of human trafficking were reported just in the first six months of 2019. Studies show many of those victims came into contact with healthcare professionals during their captivity, and many of those providers don't recognize the situation.
“We do recognize victims of trafficking get sick. Like everyone else, they needed medical attention in an emergent situation, and so it is entirely possible that they may present to an emergency department for care at some point during their trafficking,” SMJH Nurse Courtney Lambert said.
“We are uniquely poised to help a person out of their exploitation. The fact that up to 88-percent of survivors are accessing medical care, that’s a whole lot of victims we’re missing,” Fay Chelmow with ImPACT Virginia said.
Virginia does not require nurses, pharmacists and other healthcare providers to be trained on the signs of human trafficking.
“They are falling through the cracks, because medical providers lack awareness and training,” Chelmow said. “If you don't know the red flags, you're not going to see it.”
However, staff members at SMJH are working to spread awareness and train staff to recognize potential victims.
“It's important that we expose our staff, whether that be nursing or ancillary staff, to the possibility that there is a patient coming in who has been a victim of human trafficking,” Lambert said.
“If the victim is with the trafficker, the trafficker is very controlling, very dominating, usually controls the conversation,” Chelmow explained.
Experts say to look out for inconsistencies when the victim is recounting his or her medical history, and be on the lookout for rehearsed or scripted answers. They also say if you suspect something, separate the victim from the supposed trafficker.