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Guest Column
Community health centers affect more than just health care | Column
Here’s just one example: Suncoast Community Health Centers helped save an 11-year-old victim from human traffickers.
Hillsborough Sheriff Chad Chronister said a human trafficking operation conducted during Super Bowl week 2021 in Tampa freed several women.
Hillsborough Sheriff Chad Chronister said a human trafficking operation conducted during Super Bowl week 2021 in Tampa freed several women. [ Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office. ]
Published Aug. 12

As we celebrate National Health Center Week, we recognize not only the positive health outcomes of the community, but the impact on public safety and security that community health centers have.

Brad Herremans
Brad Herremans [ Provided ]

Last year’s Super Bowl raised the conversation around public safety, especially the threat of human trafficking. But as the fanfare ended after the game, the risk did not. Our law enforcement did a tremendous job of shutting down trafficking rings. However, it’s vital that the rest of us — the community — remain vigilant against what’s often hidden in plain sight.

And that’s how Suncoast Community Health Centers helped save an 11-year-old victim from human traffickers. Yes, you read that right — 11 years old.

Suncoast offers primary care services to all patients, regardless of insurance status or ability to pay. We are uniquely positioned to care for people from all walks of life, especially underserved and at-risk populations.

It was during a routine medical appointment that we discovered the young patient was pregnant. The provider taking care of the patient heard her story, that she had consensual intercourse with an older boy she met at a park. Our staff undergo continuous training on how to spot a victim — and this provider immediately knew something was off.

Our team alerted Child Protective Services and the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office to investigate while we cared for the victim and her unborn child. The investigation and DNA test found that the adult male who claimed to be her father and brought her to the clinic was anything but that.

He was not the father of the young victim, as he claimed, but instead the father of her child. She had been held captive for several years.

The professionalism and integrity of law enforcement and Child Protective Services cannot be overstated. They swiftly intercepted to arrest the perpetrator and his accomplice, who are now thankfully behind bars.

The young victim and her baby are now in the care of professionals, safe from the atrocities they had to endure. They have a long road of recovery ahead, but now they have a chance. It’s a hard story to tell, but an important one. It shows the role we all must play in protecting one another.

At Suncoast, we have a risk management protocol to flag anything unusual. We see a lot of patients each year, and from time-to-time play a part in these major interceptions.

Our day-to-day impact may seem minor in comparison, but it remains critical for the well-being of the larger community. We provide medical, dental, and vision services at health centers across rural and suburban East Hillsborough and additional mobile units to give people in all corners of the county access to high-quality health care.

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National Health Center Week features several focus days, including health center staff and stakeholder appreciation days. This week is an opportunity to thank the fantastic staff and providers, law enforcement, community partners, and elected leaders who work with community health centers to make Tampa Bay a better place.

Brad Herremans is the CEO of Suncoast Community Health Centers.

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