CHICAGO, IL (May 5, 2015) — The young woman who was brought into Swedish Covenant Hospital’s emergency room appeared to be a victim of domestic violence. Yet as she talked to the nurse, the healthcare worker began to suspect something different.
The nurse was part of an internal interdisciplinary study group at the hospital on human trafficking, and she’d recently read a proposed protocol for how to help. She recognized some of the symptoms in the patient.
So in addition to treating the patient’s physical wounds, the nurse contacted authorities who were able to help free her from her captor. Without having read the information in the protocol, the nurse said the girl would have slipped “under the radar.”
The incident happened a week before the first meeting of a hospital task force charged with helping staff recognize and get appropriate help for trafficking victims.
“That said to me how important it was that we educate and empower our staff throughout the hospital,” said Jennifer Tscherney, executive director of the Swedish Covenant Hospital Foundation.
The hospital already is working with multiple law-enforcement organizations, the Salvation Army, and other community groups to help staff better understand cross-cultural communication and social mores.
The hospital hopes to develop protocols that can be used throughout the country. “There are a lot of hospitals that have done a lot of great work with domestic violence,” Kate Lawler, a consultant helping the hospital develop its community outreach on women’s issues, said, “but I don’t think there are programs that are this comprehensive.”
Swedish Covenant intends to provide training to all employees—both medical and non-medical—to recognize and respond to signs of human trafficking. Some signs differ from that of domestic violence, such as tattoos marking a slave as property or repeated occurrences of sexually transmitted diseases, Lawler said.
The hospital setting provides unique opportunities to assist trafficking victims, she added. “We are privy to highly sensitive health information.”
The healthcare provider may be the only person who can see the trafficked person alone, Lawler explained. And women might feel more open to sharing information with a healthcare provider or perhaps an employee of the ethnic or cultural background.
The work to help trafficking victims and other women suffering from domestic violence is just part of the hospital’s Women’s Health Initiative that seeks to provide treatment and information to the community, which is one of the most culturally diverse zip codes in the U.S. (The accompanying video is from the Violence Against Women community meeting.)
Last year, the hospital opened the new $8 million Mayora Rosenberg Women’s Health Center, offering a broad range of services and a Health Resource Center that offers women access to health information and resources. Its Access and Education Program includes a women’s health navigator, who assists women who have encountered significant financial, educational, or cultural barriers as they navigate the complex healthcare system.