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Health care professionals helping fight “modern slavery” of human trafficking under Texas laws supported by Rio Grande Valley state legislative delegation, reports DHR Health - Titans of the Texas Legislature

Featured: Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville, was a cosponsor of House Bill 2059, one of a series of bills that became state laws in September 2019 designed to help fight human trafficking – also known as “modern slavery”.  House Bill 2059, which was unanimously supported by the Rio Grande Valley state legislative delegation, helps Texas fight human trafficking by ensuring that health care providers are trained to identify and assist victims, reports DHR Health. 

Photograph Courtesy SEN. LUCIO FACEBOOK

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Health care professionals helping fight “modern slavery” of human trafficking under Texas laws supported by Rio Grande Valley state legislative delegation, reports DHR Health

By DAVID A. DÍAZ
[email protected]

Health care professionals are helping fight human trafficking –  also known as “modern slavery” – under recently-created Texas laws supported by the Rio Grande Valley state legislative delegation, reports DHR Health.

Human trafficking involves the use of force, fraud, or coercion to obtain some type of labor or commercial sex act, according to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Every year, millions of men, women, and children are trafficked worldwide – including in Texas and the United States.

House Bill 2059, authored by Rep. César Blanco, D-El Paso, was passed during the 2019 legislative session, and became effective on Sunday, September 1, 2019.

“I filed this bill, and I’m glad we got it passed because heath care providers are in a unique position to identify victims of human trafficking. House Bill 2059 is the first step in ensuring that health care professionals are knowledgeable of the signs that a patient is being trafficked and are adequately prepared to report such cases to help in our fight against human trafficking in Texas,” Blanco wrote in an email on Wednesday, September 9, 2020, to Reform Austin (RA) News.

The author is the legislator who files a bill and guides it through the legislative process (also called the primary author).

“With more trained eyes and ears, it is my hope we can save victims from their exploitation and make our communities safer,” Blanco’s email continued.

Anchored in southwest Edinburg, with a growing presence in neighboring McAllen, DHR Health offers some of the most comprehensive medical care on the U.S. southern border, with more than 1,400 nurses and 600+ physicians providing care in 70+ specialties and sub-specialties.

DHR Health is the flagship teaching hospital for the UTRGV School of Medicine and encompasses a general acute hospital with the only dedicated women’s hospital south of San Antonio, a rehabilitation hospital, a behavioral hospital, more than 70 clinics Valley-wide, advanced cancer services, the only transplant program in the Rio Grande Valley – and the only functioning 24/7 Level 1 Trauma Center south of San Antonio.

DHR Health is headquartered on a 130-acre site, with most of the facilities in southwest Edinburg but with a growing South Campus immediately across Owassa Road in northwest McAllen.

Human trafficking can happen in any community and victims can be any age, race, gender, or nationality. 

Traffickers might use violence, manipulation, or false promises of well-paying jobs or romantic relationships to lure victims into trafficking situations, according to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. 

https://www.dhs.gov/blue-campaign/what-human-trafficking

Supporters said the state law created by House Bill 2059 said:

• HB 2059 was approved to help Texas combat human trafficking by ensuring that health care providers are trained to identify and assist victims. Studies have found that there are an estimated 313,000 human trafficking victims in Texas and that an estimated 88 percent of trafficking victims surveyed report having come into contact with a health care provider while they were being trafficked; and

• By training physicians, nurses, and other licensed health care practitioners to spot the warning signs as part of their professional education requirements, they shall effectivelyassist victims in receiving care and escaping their traffickers. Without this training, practitioners may fail to recognize a human trafficking victim. By tying license and registration permit renewal to the completion of a human trafficking training course, the knowledge  would ensure that health care practitioners could recognize human trafficking and assist victims. 

Texas has one of highest rates of human trafficking in the U.S.

According to the Senate Research Center, which provides nonpartisan (unbiased) detailed information on major state legislation, “human trafficking is a public health concern that affects individuals, families, and entire communities across multiple generations. It has been reported that Texas has one of the highest rates of human trafficking in the nation, with hundreds of thousands of victims currently residing in Texas.”

The state law created by House Bill 2059 required health care practitioners, other than physicians and nurses, to complete a training course on identifying and assisting victims of human trafficking. 

Completing the course was a condition for the renewal of these health care practitioners’ licenses, and the course had to be approved by the executive commissioner of the Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC).

Health care practitioners were not required to complete the required training course before September 1, 2020.

Physicians

The state law created by House Bill 2059 required physicians who submit an application for renewal of a registration permit and who designate a direct patient care practice to complete the human trafficking prevention course approved by the HHSC’s executive commissioner.

Completion of this course fell under the hours of continuing medical education required of license-holders.

The Texas Medical Board was required to adopt rules to implement this requirement and designate the required course as a medical ethics or professional responsibility course for the purposes of complying with continuing medical education requirements.

Nurses 

As part of a continuing competency program, a nursing license holder who provides direct patient care is required to complete the human trafficking prevention course. The Texas Board of Nursing was required adopt rules to implement this requirement.

The executive commissioner of Health and Human Services Commission must approve training courses on human trafficking prevention, including at least one free course, and post a list of the approved courses on its website. The executive commissioner will update this list as necessary and consider for approval training courses conducted by health care facilities.

As soon as practicable after September 1, 2019, courses had to be approved and posted and the rules necessary to implement the training requirements for health care practitioners adopted.

Provisions of the the law created by House Bill 2059 relating to continuing education programs for physicians and other license-holders would apply only to the renewal of a registration permit to practice medicine or nursing on or after September 1, 2020.

As the author of House Bill 2059, Blanco is the legislator who filed the bill and guided it through the legislative process (also called the primary author).

Sen. Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood, carried House Bill 2059 through the Senate as its primary sponsor.  

The sponsor is the legislator who guides a bill through the legislative process after the bill has passed the originating chamber. The sponsor is a member of the opposite chamber of the one in which the bill was filed.

Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville, and Sen. Carol Alvarado, D-Houston, were cosponsors of House Bill 2059.

A cosponsor is the legislator who joins with the primary sponsor to guide a bill or resolution through the legislative process in the opposite chamber. A cosponsor must be a member of the opposite chamber from the one in which the measure was filed.

Texas Human Trafficking Resource Center

The Texas Human Trafficking Resource Center is a statewide directory that connects Health and Human Services staff, healthcare providers, stakeholders and potential victims of human trafficking to local, state and national resources to identify and help people affected by human trafficking.

The Texas Human Trafficking Resource Center increases awareness of health care issues surrounding human trafficking victims and coordinates with stakeholders, including the Department of Family and Protective Services, the Office of the Governor and the Office of the Attorney General on anti-trafficking initiatives.

“Health care providers have a unique opportunity to become the first point of contact in identifying and connecting Texans who have been trafficked,” its website explains. “It is important to understand the dynamics of human trafficking, know what questions to ask when you suspect someone may be a victim and to have appropriate resources about available services to offer victims. It is vital for health care providers to take a thoughtful, approach to engaging patients. Creating a safe environment will help you identify trafficking indicators and help your patient.

Also according to the Texas Human Trafficking Resource Center, there a “red flags” for health care providers to look for when treating their patients, which may include the following conditions:

• Frequent treatment of sexually transmitted infections or injuries
• Multiple unwanted pregnancies
• Fractures or burns
• Bruising
• Gastrointestinal problems
• Skin or respiratory problems caused by exposure to agricultural or other chemicals Communicable and non-communicable diseases
• Oral health issues, including broken teeth
• Chronic pain
• Signs of concussions, traumatic brain injuries or unexplained memory loss
• Malnourished
• Unwilling to answer questions about their health Unable to concentrate or provide basic information including age, address or time
• Gives confusing or contradicting information
• Abuses substances
• Has depression and anxiety
• Is nervous or avoids eye contact
• Has post-traumatic stress disorder
• Another person  appears to be in control of them and doesn’t let them answer questions
• Reports a high number of sexual encounters
• Doesn’t have possession of their own identification documents
• Lives in overcrowded areas or at their workplace
• Has tattoos or other branding of ownership
• Wears inappropriate clothing for the weather or venue

Victims can be any age and are trafficked by anyone, including family members, extended relatives, friends, spouses and partners, as well as acquaintances and strangers.

School districts, law enforcement officers, state highway department receive training on human trafficking and smuggling

Also according to the House Research Organization, the 86th Legislature during 2019 considered other bills related to human trafficking prevention training for certain professionals, including:

House Bill 111 by Rep. Mary González, D-El Paso, effective Friday, May 31, 2019, requires school districts and open-enrollment charter schools to adopt policies addressing sexual abuse, sex trafficking, and other maltreatment of children in their district improvement plans. 

These policies must address methods for increasing staff, student, and parent awareness, actions that children who are victims of sexual abuse, trafficking, or maltreatment should take to obtain assistance, and available counseling options. The methods for increasing awareness would have to include training on the prevention of sexual abuse, sex trafficking, and other maltreatment of children with significant cognitive disabilities.

Sen. Pat Fallon, R-Prosper, was the sponsor of House Bill 111.

House Bill 292 by Rep. Senfronia Thompson, D-Houston,  effective Sunday, September 1, 2019, requires peace officers and reserve law enforcement officers to complete the basic education and training program on human trafficking as part of the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement’s minimum curriculum requirements. Officers will have to complete the program by the second anniversary of their initial licensing, unless an officer completed the program as part of the basic training course.

Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, was the sponsor of House Bill 292.

House Bill 403, also by Rep. Senfronia Thompson, effective Sunday, September 1, 2019, requires members of boards of trustees and superintendents of independent school districts to complete an hour of training on identifying and reporting potential victims of sexual abuse, human trafficking, and other maltreatment of children every two years. The bill expands the continuing education requirements for superintendents to include at least 150 minutes of human trafficking and child maltreatment training every five years.

Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, was the sponsor of House Bill 403

Sen. Carol Alvarado, D-Houston, and Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville, served as cosponsors of House Bill 403.

Senate Bill 1593 by Sen. José Rodríguez, D-El Paso, effective Sunday, September 1, 2019, requires the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) to develop and make available to its employees a training course on recognizing and preventing human trafficking and smuggling. TxDOT will have to collaborate with the attorney general in developing the content of this training. 

Rep. Evelina “Lina” Ortega, D-El Paso, was the sponsor of Senate Bill 1593.

HELPING SURVIVORS OF CHILD SEX TRAFFICKING RECOVER

Texas legislators, pediatric trauma psychiatrists from UTHealth, and the Houston Police Department came together on Wednesday, September 4, 2019, to discuss a new state law designed to help child sex trafficking survivors recover.

Of the nearly 80,000 survivors of child sex trafficking in Texas, half are trafficked in Houston. To shed light on the issue, Sen. Carol Alvarado, D-Houston, and Rep. Sarah Davis, R-Bellaire, held a press conference at UTHealth Harris County Psychiatric Center.

Alvarado said $15 million in funding has been set aside to improve the quality and accessibility to care for sex trafficking survivors. UTHealth, which is uniquely situated to help these survivors with a continuum of services to fill in the gaps that exist from point of rescue to recovery, will apply to the Texas Health and Human Services Commission for the funds.

“Senate Bill 20 will allow us an opportunity to work with the local care coordination team and community stakeholders, who are already doing this incredible work, to strategically fill in the gaps of care for child sex traffic survivors and their families,” UTHealth pediatric psychiatrist Elizabeth Newlin, MD, said at the event. “The problem is enormous.”

Under the proposed plan, inpatient treatment would be provided at UTHealth Harris County Psychiatric Center and outpatient care through the UTHealth Trauma and Resilience Center in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at McGovern Medical School. UTHealth would partner with other organizations in this important field to assess additional needs for these vulnerable survivors.

Other components include creating opportunities for research and workforce expansion related to the treatment of child sex trafficking survivors and assisting other institutions in establishing similar programs throughout the state.

Houston Police Department Assistant Chief J.G. Jones also spoke at the event.

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Faith Harper contributed to this article. For more on this and other Texas legislative news stories that affect the Rio Grande Valley metropolitan region, please log on to Titans of the Texas Legislature (TitansoftheTexasLegislature.com).

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