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Central Coast residency program to train future doctors in caring for human trafficking victims

From left to right:  Dr. Luke Rawlings (MSH faculty champion), Dr. Shirley Chang (MSH resident champion), Nicole Moses (MSH patient advocate), Dr. Christine Ragay-Cathers (MSH faculty champion)
Marian Regional Medical Center

Marian Regional Medical Center in Santa Maria has a new residency program to train future doctors on how to treat people who have suffered from human trafficking.

The hospital said this program started in 2016 in Sacramento and has slowly expanded to Redding, Northridge, and now the Central Coast.

The U.S. Department of Justice estimates there are over 25 million people worldwide who experience human trafficking, whether it's through labor or sexual exploitation. Dignity Health said the program will provide a trauma-informed care experience for victims, meaning the care acknowledges how the traumatic experience of trafficking affects the patient's mental, emotional, and physical health.

Christine Ragay-Cathers is the Associate Program Director and Medical Director of the Marian Family Medicine Residency Program. She said this residency program trains future physicians to create a relationship of trust with the patients by continuing care in the long term, rather than having them visit the Emergency Room to re-explain their situation to a new physician each time.

Marian Regional Medical Center opens new residency program.
Dignity Health
Marian Regional Medical Center opens new residency program.

“We're able to follow them in the long term and really help them build trust, not only in their physician but also in the healthcare system,” Ragay-Cathers said.

She said human trafficking is a lot more prevalent than people might think, and a lot of the providers working in the emergency room or urgent care typically do not have the trauma-informed care training that the Safe Haven Program is based on.

“Once these resident physicians graduate, they'll have that training and no matter what setting they practice, say they move on to other parts of the state or other parts of the country, they'll have this background of training where they're able to recognize this special population of patients,” Ragay-Cathers said.

The U.S. Department of Justice says about 99% of victims who suffer from sexual exploitation trafficking are girls and women, and about 58% of victims who suffer from forced labor trafficking are girls and women.

Right now, the Santa Maria Marian Hospital has about five patients enrolled in their Safe Haven Program.

“A lot of times with this population, they haven't been able to adequately kind of maneuver through that healthcare system and sometimes it's very challenging. It's very intimidating,” Ragay-Cathers said.

The Marian Regional Medical Center said they were able to fund this program through a grant from the Department of Justice. Ragay-Cathers said if patients are not insured, the hospital can use the funding from the grant to allow them to cover the patient’s medical care.

Gabriela Fernandez came to KCBX in May of 2022 as a general assignment reporter, and became news director in December of 2023. She graduated from Sacramento State with a BA in Political Science. During her senior year, she interned at CapRadio in their podcast department, and later worked for them as an associate producer on the TahoeLand podcast. When she's not writing or editing news stories, she loves to travel, play tennis and take her 140-lbs dog, Atlas, on long walks by the coast.
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