Nurse-led Initiative Develops Program to Combat Human Trafficking

group photo of nurses

University of Missouri Health Care staff members have formed a committee dedicated to helping victims of human trafficking.

After months of developing materials, they now are meeting with units at University Hospital and Women’s and Children’s Hospital to help all staff who interact with patients learn to recognize signs of a trafficking victim and what to do if a patient needs help.

Trafficking is a form of modern-day slavery that forces, tricks or coerces a person into labor or commercial sex acts. It’s been reported in all 50 states, but it’s hard to quantify how prevalent the problem is because it often goes unreported. According to the anti-trafficking nonprofit Polaris, there were more than 40,000 cases identified through helplines in 2017, but the number of victims could be in the hundreds of thousands. 

Tracy Bocklage, RN, a labor and delivery nurse at Women’s and Children’s Hospital, said she and other members of the Human Trafficking Committee were inspired to act after hearing survivors and expert Nanette Ward from the Central Missouri Stop Human Trafficking Coalition speak at a Women’s Service Line staff meeting.

They learned health care providers are in a unique position to help solve the problem. Some studies estimate that as many as 88 percent of victims get medical care at some point during their exploitation. By raising awareness of the issue among clinical and non-clinical staff, hospitals can become major players in combating trafficking.

“It’s a great thing for us to be able to say we’re leading the path in this for Central Missouri,” Bocklage said.

Signs that a person might be a victim of human trafficking include, but are not limited to:

  • Physical injury
  • Delay in seeking care
  • Inconsistent stories
  • Multiple sexually transmitted infections
  • Multiple sex partners
  • Submissiveness
  • Not having their own ID
  • Not having control of their own money
  • Not knowing where they are
  • Being accompanied by a dominant, controlling person

In addition to Tracy Bocklage, the Human Trafficking Committee includes Caroline Bocklage, CTA-C; Lesli Briggs, RN SLS; Amy Hoff, RN SLS; Heather Jones, RN SLCE; Amy Nelson, RN (a former MU Health Care employee); and Harly Blumhagen, LMSW CM.

Christina Vollrath, MSN, RN, NE-BE, director of Nursing and Patient Care Operations at Women’s and Children’s Hospital, said she is proud of the committee’s initiative.

“This team has worked tirelessly to create a program that will help with the recognition of trafficking and the care given to those being trafficked,” Vollrath said.

In addition to educating nurses, the committee also is working with other staff from areas such as security, housekeeping, admissions/registration and language services.

“Some of these staff could witness things that might not be obvious when the nurses are in the room. They might hear something that causes alarm,” Tracy Bocklage said.

The committee also has worked closely with developers at Cerner Corporation, a Kansas City-based health information technology supplier, to update MU Health Care’s charting program to add mandatory trafficking screening. After the electronic medical record is updated, all patients — men, women and children — will be screened. If a patient is believed to be a trafficking victim, there is now a planned, standardized response at MU Health Care.

“The work of this team has set us up to be leaders in the industry,” Vollrath said. “We look forward to their continued advancements.”

Read more stories like this