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Working together to address human trafficking

By The Health News Team | September 26, 2023
Amy Sharpe of Sharp HealthCare

Amy Sharpe, an assistant librarian at the Sharp Memorial Hospital Medical Library, founded an organization that helps protect youth from human trafficking.

As an active participant in the Community Health Needs Assessment (CHNA), a countywide collaboration between hospitals and health systems dedicated to identifying health and social needs within our community, Sharp and its hospitals continue to make a positive impact every day.

The 2022 assessment shed light on a serious health and safety issue that only became more pervasive during the COVID-19 pandemic: human trafficking. The CHNA further highlighted the relationship between human trafficking and the community’s priority health needs, including the well-being of children and youth, behavioral health, community safety, economic stability and access to health care.

Human trafficking involves the use of force, fraud or coercion to obtain some type of labor or commercial sex act. It is the “business of stealing freedom for profit,” according to the National Human Trafficking Hotline. San Diego is ranked by the FBI as one of the top spots for human trafficking in the U.S., with up to 8,000 people affected per year.

Addressing the devastation of human trafficking

Amy Sharpe, an assistant librarian at the Sharp Memorial Hospital Medical Library, was volunteering as a foster youth mentor when she first became aware of the stark effect human trafficking has on members of the San Diego community. Determined to make a difference, Sharpe researched best practices in addressing human trafficking from a health perspective and organized meetings with community partners.

In 2018, Sharpe founded the Health Subcommittee of the San Diego Regional Human Trafficking & Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children Advisory Council, where she currently serves as chair.

Through this subcommittee, collective efforts have emerged to address human trafficking. With a focus on protocol development, education and training, Sharpe and her colleagues have equipped health care providers — both within and outside of Sharp — to use trauma-informed methods to identify and empower patients who have been trafficked. This approach to care promotes safety and healing rather than efforts that may inadvertently re-traumatize the patient. When patients are ready, social workers help to connect them with community support.

“Trauma-informed care helps survivors of human trafficking feel safe and heard,” Sharpe says. “It means we improve the health care experience for everyone involved.”

The success of such efforts exemplifies Sharp’s commitment to identifying and addressing community needs. “All social determinants of health funnel into human trafficking,” Sharpe says. “It’s wonderful to see this recognized as a public health issue and to see Sharp collaborate with its community partners to address it.”

Learn more about how Sharp HealthCare provides benefit programs and services to our community by reading the Annual Community Benefit Plan and Report.

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