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Promising Practice: Pennsylvania Office of Rural Health Puts Focus on Rural Human Trafficking

By Beth Blevins

Human trafficking doesn’t just happen in big cities in the United States—it happens in rural areas as well. Lisa Davis, Director of the Pennsylvania Office of Rural Health (PORH), is working to bring more attention to this issue.

Davis said her interest in human trafficking came unexpectedly, at a presentation given at a Pennsylvania Critical Access Hospital Consortium meeting in November 2017. It was unclear if the topic resonated with the hospital leadership in the audience, she said. “But hospital CEOs came up to me after the meeting and told me they never knew that human trafficking was an issue in rural Pennsylvania or was something they should think about.”

Davis added, “It was clear that their facilities needed to be prepared to identify potential victims and to have systems in place to refer them for the services they would need.”

The administrators then asked if PORH could develop training programs for them. “PORH staff made a deliberate choice to train rural providers on the threat of human trafficking,” Davis said. “We know that we can be a resource for rural hospitals and other providers.”

Since the beginning of 2018, PORH has worked to address the issue in rural Pennsylvania. As a first step, a statewide committee of government, academic, community, and hospital representatives was organized. In November 2018, the group launched the Rural Human Trafficking Initiative with an introductory webinar targeting small rural hospitals, community-based organizations, and others interested in serving potential victims.

Since then, Davis said, “We continue to keep the hospitals informed—we’ve gotten a lot of interest from them.”

Davis also is reaching beyond Pennsylvania to raise awareness of rural human trafficking in other states. She gave a presentation in October 2018 at the Annual Meeting of the National Organization of State Offices of Rural Health (NOSORH) in Cheyenne, Wyoming. “It was the first time anyone had talked about that topic at NOSORH,” Davis said.

“I wanted to have NOSORH begin to think about how State Offices of Rural Health (SORHs) could address human trafficking with the Critical Access Hospitals, Rural Health Clinics, and Federally Qualified Health Clinics with which they work,” she said.

This summer, PORH and its partners will host a summit on rural human trafficking (June 26-27) in State College, Pennsylvania. “We are beginning to put in place some of the training programs that the hospitals can implement to identify point persons in their facilities, and the programs and connections that they need to address human trafficking,” Davis said.

Davis observed, “Human trafficking is often thought of as sexual exploitation but it’s also labor exploitation, which can occur essentially anywhere: in restaurants, domestic service, agricultural production, and more.”

Human trafficking is of special concern in Pennsylvania, Davis said, “because we are a state with two main cities and a number of interstate systems that traverse rural areas. With lots of travel routes into, out of, and through the state, it’s much easier to transport victims from one place to another.” According to the National Human Trafficking Hotline, there were 127 cases of human trafficking in Pennsylvania in 2018, with the majority of those cases sex trafficking.

As PORH staff became more informed about human trafficking, Davis said, they found a large network of individuals and organizations that have been focusing on the issue for a long time.

“We’ve made excellent contacts,” she said. “We’ve connected with Villanova University’s Commercial Sexual Exploitation Institute. We’ve been learning about coordinated efforts between the FBI and other law enforcement agencies to address human trafficking. And we’re working with the Region III offices of HHS and HRSA, which have an intergovernmental task force focused on human trafficking.”

However, she noted, “PORH is still very early in the learning stage and is committed to becoming a trusted resource for rural health care providers.”

Davis concluded, “Every story is heartbreaking and if we can make a difference in even one life, this effort will be well worth it.”

If you see someone who you think might be a human trafficking victim, contact the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888 (text to: 233733).

This article appeared as a Promising Practice feature in the March issue of the NOSORH Branch newsletter.
Reprinted with permission from the National Organization of State Offices of Rural Health (NOSORH).

Tackling HPV Cancers

Tackling HPV Cancers.  The Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine can prevent 30,000 Americans from getting cancer each year, but data from 2017 show that fewer than half of adolescents completed the HPV vaccination series.  In rural communities, adolescents are less likely than their urban peers to be aware of the HPV vaccine and its importance in cancer prevention.  Monday, March 4th is International HPV Awareness Day and the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) asks you to join the #EndHPVCancers Twitter Chat on that day at 3:00 pm ET.  And to help others understand the risks and ways to prevent HPV, share resources from the HHS HPV Promotional Toolkit, the National HPV Roundtable, and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Brief: Disability in PA, 2013-2017

Approximately 1.73 million Pennsylvanians (13.7%) have at least one disability. This month we highlight trends in the population with disabilities in PA according to the 2013-2017 American Community Estimates. Key trends include:

  • A higher percentage of females and older persons had disabilities
  • Ambulatory, or movement-based, disabilities were the most common type
  • Those with disabilities had lower educational attainment and earnings

Read more:

Department of Human Services’ Report on Child Abuse Data Outlines Prevention Recommendations



February 21, 2019

Department of Human Services’ Report on Child Abuse Data Outlines Prevention Recommendations 

Harrisburg, PA – Department of Human Services (DHS) Secretary Teresa Miller today released the Pennsylvania Child Abuse Fatality/Near Fatality Trend Analysis Report, a study of statewide child abuse fatality and near fatality data from calendar years 2015 and 2016. The report outlines and analyzes data from these years and establishes recommendations to prevent child abuse fatalities and near fatalities so children can grow up in safe, nurturing homes.

“Every child deserves to live and grow up in a safe, nurturing home, and we firmly believe that one life lost as a result of child abuse is one too many,” said Secretary Miller. “We must learn from past child fatalities and near-fatalities that resulted from abuse so we are best prepared to understand child abuse and protect children around Pennsylvania. We will not accept the notion that there is nothing we could to do prevent abuse and protect children around Pennsylvania, and the recommendations in this report will help us create stronger, safer systems moving forward.”

In order to review and learn from past instances of child abuse fatalities and near fatalities, the department convened a trend analysis team comprised of staff across multiple state agencies, partners in the General Assembly and local government, and child welfare advocates. The report approaches child abuse as a public health issue that requires collaborative, multidisciplinary partnerships, strengthened prevention efforts and improved ways to identify signs and cases of abuse before a fatality or near-fatality occurs.

The trend analysis team’s recommendations focus on improvements to the fatality and near-fatality review process, strengthened intervention programs, and legislative and policy changes. Recommendations included:

  • Establishing regional review teams and technical assistance networks to provide greater support that strengthens county fatality and near-fatality review teams;
  • Creating best practice guidelines and tools and enhancing trainings for county review teams;
  • Expanding education on fatality and near-fatality reviews to include the education system, health care providers, law enforcement, and behavioral health and substance use disorder treatment providers;
  • Researching effectiveness of existing supports like crisis hotlines, text-lines, and social media resources to evaluate if such resources should be expanded around Pennsylvania;
  • Exploring an alert system between health care providers and managed care organizations to monitor parent engagement, identify potential cases of abuse, and recognize when a referral is necessary;
  • Increasing availability of resources that educate on the signs of abuse and the importance of timely referrals to appropriate services;
  • Providing more resources for parents on healthy parenting at all stages of a child’s life;
  • Evaluating and enhancing policies pertaining to child abuse and neglect investigations, when to consult with a medical professional, and screening guidelines for county children and youth agencies;
  • Amending Child Protective Services Law to allow for enhanced case management to identify potential future abuse and a streamlined review process that creates a more comprehensive assessment.

Implementation of these recommendations will be considered and coordinated between other state agencies, the General Assembly, and partners in local government and law enforcement with assistance from advocates and stakeholders in child welfare, health care, education, and behavioral health fields. Recommendations will be monitored and evaluated as they are implemented for effectiveness in reducing future fatalities and near fatalities.

“This report is an important step towards better understanding and preventing child abuse,” said Secretary Miller. “I am very thankful for the trend analysis team’s work thus far, and we will continue to work closely with our state and local partners and advocates to keep children safe, healthy, and happy.”

“The recommendations announced today are just the beginning. We are committed to working with our partners in federal, state, and local governments as well as the stakeholders and advocates in the child welfare system and continuing to provide updates as recommendations are implemented and evaluated,” said Secretary Miller. “We will continue to work every day to protect children around the commonwealth so that all children can grow and thrive in safe, loving homes.”


For more information on how to identify and report child abuse,


MEDIA CONTACT:  Ali Fogarty, 717-425-7606

AHA Report on Challenges to Rural Access to Care

AHA Report on Challenges to Rural Access to Care.  The American Hospital Association (AHA) report takes a comprehensive look at persistent challenges to health care in rural communities, an examination that includes hospital closures, the opioid crisis, social determinants of health, lack of behavioral health and workforce shortages.  While it acknowledges a role and responsibility for better policy at every level, the report focuses on federal policies and investments in light of their nationwide impact and reach.

Advancing Tobacco Prevention and Control in Rural America

Advancing Tobacco Prevention and Control in Rural America. The National Network of Public Health Institutes (NNPHI), in conjunction with the Maine Public Health Institute and the National Association of Chronic Disease Directors (NACDD), announced the release of a new report highlighting the significant toll tobacco has on rural communities.  The report – which includes 15 recommendations for advancing rural tobacco control initiatives and suggestions for future research – explores rates and patterns of commercial tobacco use across rural, aspects of the rural context that may affect tobacco control efforts, and current rural tobacco control activities. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, cigarette smoking disproportionately affects the health of people with lower socioeconomic status, withpeople living in deprived, rural areas experiencing rates of lung cancer that are 18-20 percent higher than people living in urban areas.

White House Launches High Speed Broadband Initiative

White House Launches High Speed Broadband Initiative.  On Wednesday, the White House announced a new effort to increase broadband access, particularly in rural areas where coverage and speeds are insufficient to accommodate needs for health care, education and commerce.  With input from a range of federal agencies, including the U.S. Departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Health and Human Services and Interior as well the Federal Communications Commission, the American Broadband Initiative Milestones Report offers recommendations grouped into three categories: streamlining federal permitting processes to speed broadband deployment, leveraging federal assets to lower the cost of broadband build-outs, and maximizing the impact of federal funding.  See the Funding Opportunities section below for announcements related to broadband access and telecommunications specific to rural areas.

USDA Launches High-Speed Broadband e-Connectivity Resource Guide

WASHINGTON, Feb. 6, 2019 – Assistant to the Secretary for Rural Development Anne Hazlett today announced the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has launched a new toolkit to help support the deployment of high-speed broadband e-Connectivity in rural communities.

“High-speed broadband e-Connectivity is becoming more and more essential to doing business, delivering health care, and, for schoolchildren, doing homework in rural communities,” Hazlett said. “This user-friendly tool will help rural customers find the many resources USDA has available to support the expansion and use of e-Connectivity in rural America.”

The e-Connectivity Toolkit (PDF, 4.3 MB) features 27 USDA programs that support broadband deployment. The easy-to-use resource is a simple guide that allows customers to identify their type of e-Connectivity project and locate resources the federal government offers for planning, equipment, construction, research and other e-Connectivity projects. Resources such as grants, loans and technical assistance are available from multiple Mission Areas at USDA, including Rural Development, National Institute of Food and Agriculture, Farm Service Agency, Natural Resources Conservation Service, and Forest Service.

The toolkit highlights examples of how e-Connectivity resources are being used to increase access to broadband services in rural communities. It is free and available to the public online, and can be easily printed for offline use.

USDA’s launch of the e-Connectivity Toolkit closely follows Secretary Sonny Perdue’s unveiling of the ReConnect Program, a pilot program authorized by the Consolidated Budget Act of 2018, to facilitate broadband deployment in rural areas that lack sufficient access to broadband.

In April 2017, President Donald J. Trump established the Interagency Task Force on Agriculture and Rural Prosperity to identify legislative, regulatory and policy changes that could promote agriculture and prosperity in rural communities. In January 2018, Secretary Perdue presented the Task Force’s findings to President Trump. These findings included 31 recommendations to align the federal government with state, local and tribal governments to take advantage of opportunities that exist in rural America. Increasing investments in rural infrastructure is a key recommendation of the task force.

To view the report in its entirety, please view the Report to the President of the United States from the Task Force on Agriculture and Rural Prosperity (PDF, 5.4 MB). In addition, to view the categories of the recommendations, please view the Rural Prosperity infographic (PDF, 190 KB).

USDA Rural Development provides loans and grants to help expand economic opportunities and create jobs in rural areas. This assistance supports infrastructure improvements; business development; housing; community facilities such as schools, public safety and health care; and high-speed internet access in rural areas. For more information, visit


USDA is an equal opportunity provider, employer and lender.

The Journal of Appalachian Health Launches Today

F. Douglas Scutchfield, Editor,

The Editorial Staff, and the Editorial and Advisory Boards

Invite you to participate in the launch of the

Journal of Appalachian Health.

The Journal of Appalachian Health is now open for both readers and authors. The journal is an online, open access, peer-reviewed journal with a mission of creating a healthy and thriving Appalachia. The journal, thanks to the support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, will require no subscription fee or author publication fee.

The journal is particularly interested in receiving submissions that focus on Appalachian health inequities and social determinants of health. If you are interested in submitting articles for publication in the journal, the instructions for authors and further description of the journal are located at:

If you are interested in receiving your free copy of the journal, either go to the journal website to sign up for your free journal or send an email to

to be put on our journal mailing list.

We thank you and appreciate your interest and commitment to improving the health of the Appalachian Region.