Swedish Covenant Hospital has launched a program to strengthen its capacity to identify and respond to victims of domestic violence, sexual assault and human trafficking. Kate Lawler, women’s health advocate, joined Swedish Covenant Hospital earlier this year to lead the program’s efforts to prevent and address violence against women in the community.
“At Swedish Covenant Hospital, we recognize that freedom from violence and fear is an integral part of a woman’s health and well-being,” said Kate Lawler. “Our health care providers can play a critical role in identifying and supporting women who are experiencing violence.”
Hospitals, particularly emergency rooms and obstetric departments, are in a unique position to identify, respond and provide compassionate care to victims of violence. Because of the physical and psychological consequences of violence, victims often seek care from a health care provider. In some cases, a health care provider may be the only person with a reason to speak with a woman alone that an abuser will accept. Studies show that 24 percent to 54 percent of women who present in hospital emergency rooms have experienced abuse during their lifetime, and that victims utilize the healthcare system at a rate 2.5 times higher than non-abused patients. Interviews with survivors of human trafficking have found that up to 88 percent of them visited a health care provider while they were being trafficked.
The goal of the new program is to ensure that the hospital staff is properly prepared and has the resources needed to effectively identify and care for victims. Funded through the generosity of donors who support the hospital through Swedish Covenant Hospital Foundation, the program will provide a coordinated, comprehensive programmatic response to victims of domestic violence, sexual assault and human trafficking.
Priorities for the program include creating comprehensive screening and referral protocols and regular staff trainings; providing seamless referral and safe transportation to emergency shelters; creating patient education materials; and formalizing partnerships with culturally and linguistically diverse community organizations. Partners in this initiative include Rape Victim Advocates, the Cook County Human Trafficking Task Force, STOP-IT, the Chicago Metropolitan Battered Women’s Network, Between Friends, Apna Ghar and KAN-WIN.
“Specifically, the human trafficking training is important because we are now aware of the prevalence of this issue in our community. Previously, we would see patients in our Emergency Department and things just did not make sense. Now with the training we know what to look for and can put the pieces together to identify victims of sexual or labor trafficking,” said Kimberly Leslie, clinical director of the emergency department.
On June 4, Swedish Covenant Hospital partnered with the Cook County Human Trafficking Task Force and Lurie Children’s Hospital in which 90 healthcare providers from across Chicagoland participated in a day-long training session on human trafficking.
“Health care organizations that are trained to appropriately address violence against women have the distinct opportunity to identify victims of violence and provide them with referrals and support,” said Summer Ghias, STOP-IT, The Salvation Army Family and Community Services, who helps coordinate the Cook County Human Trafficking Task Force. Swedish Covenant Hospital has partnered with STOP-IT to train staff to recognize and respond to victims of human trafficking.
The new program resides within the hospital’s Women’s Health Initiative, which is anchored by the Mayora Rosenberg Women’s Health Center, and designed to provide every women in our community high-quality, convenient health care that addresses their unique needs.
To help sustain the program, the center is coordinating a team of runners to participate in the Magnificent Mile® Chicago Women’s Half Marathon & 5K on Sunday, September 6, 2015. Funds raised will help purchase care packages for women who are victims of violence that seek care through our emergency department. Learn more about Team SCH, or support a Team SCH runner, by visiting the team fundraising site.