Health care workers learning to spot human trafficking victims

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Health care workers at several Valley hospitals are being trained to look out of for trafficking victims. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) Health care workers at several Valley hospitals are being trained to look out of for trafficking victims. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)

Health care staff at all the Dignity Health hospitals in Arizona are being trained how to screen patients for being suspected victims of human or sex trafficking.

Emergency room and obstetric staff members at St. Joseph's Hospital and Medical Center, Chandler Regional Medical Center and Mercy Gilbert Medical Center have been receiving training on what to look for and then how to offer help to suspected victims.

Holly Gibbs is the human trafficking response program director for Dignity Health. She is also a human trafficking survivor.

At 14, Gibbs was a vulnerable teenager living in New Jersey and scared about entering high school.

“I met a man at my local shopping mall who capitalized on that fear and vulnerability. He convinced me to run away with him to become a model or musician in Los Angeles. Within four hours of running away, I was forced into prostitution in Atlantic City, New Jersey," said Gibbs.

Gibbs was arrested, not long after, and that is what helped her escape.

Now, her life's passion is to share her story with professionals to help vulnerable people and those who may be victims.

"I've been in this field sharing my story, speaking with professionals since about 2009 and consistently health care has been missing from the table," said Gibbs.

But Dignity Health and Gibbs are changing all that.

Gabe Gabriel, RN, has been a nurse for about 30 years. He is the emergency response liaison for St. Joseph's Hospital in Phoenix. He went through the training and had some insightful revelations.

"I thought to myself as I took the training, 'I've seen these patients. I've treated these people and didn't know what it was.' In the back of my min, I know something didn't match, but I didn't know what it was," said Gabriel.

If victims are identified, health care professionals are not necessarily responsible for rescuing them, but offering them support, information and safety if they want it.

"That entails getting this person in a private room and talking to them about their rights and what resources are available to then and asking them if they would like our assistance, these resources or are they open to having and advocate come in and speak with them," said Gibbs.

With a tourism-driven economy, transient population and easy transportation access, Arizona is a popular destination among sex traffickers. The U.S. Department of Justice has identified Phoenix as one of the top human trafficking destinations.

Now, there are more people who might likely have contact with potential victims, trained to spot the growing problem and possibly intervene.

Copyright 2017 KPHO/KTVK (KPHO Broadcasting Corporation). All rights reserved.

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Donna RossiEmmy Award-winning reporter Donna Rossi joined CBS 5 News in September 1994.

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Donna Rossi

In that time, Donna has covered some of the most high-profile stories in the Valley and across the state. Donna's experience as a four-year veteran of the Phoenix Police Department gives her a keen sense of crime and court stories. She offered gavel to gavel coverage of the 1999 sleepwalking murder trial of Scott Falater, and the trial and conviction of retired Catholic Bishop Thomas O'Brien for a fatal hit and run accident. She also spent 2 straight weeks in northeastern Arizona in the summer of 2011 covering the Wallow Fire, the largest wildfire in Arizona history.

Donna's reputation as a fair and accurate journalist has earned her the respect of her colleagues and community. Her talent as a reporter has earned her more than a dozen Arizona Associated Press Awards and five Emmy statue.

Donna previously worked as an anchor and reporter in Tucson and got her start in broadcast journalism in Flagstaff. Donna is a past president of the Rocky Mountain Southwest Chapter of the National Academy of Arts and Sciences and currently serves on the NATAS board. She is a member of IFP/Phoenix, a non-profit organization of local film and documentary makers.

Donna was born in New York and moved to the Valley with her family when she was 9 years old. She is a graduate of Maryvale High School and attended Arizona State University. She graduated cum laude from Northern Arizona University.

In her free time, Donna enjoys boating on Bartlett Lake, all forms of music and theatre. Donna frequently donates her time to speak to community organizations and emcee their events. She is a past board member of DUET, a non-profit which helps promote health and well-being for older adults. Donna also loves donating her time to youth organizations and groups who work to secure and safeguard human rights.

On Oct. 17, 2015, Donna was honored for her amazing work over the years. The Rocky Mountain Chapter of the National Academy of Televisions Arts and Sciences inducted her into its Silver Circle. It's one of the organization's most prestigious honors for which only a few candidates are selected each year.

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