The Grayson County Health Department, under the leadership of new Public Health Director Joshua Embry, is heading into 2020 with the goal of combating the growing epidemic of human trafficking, as well as continuing to spotlight its current programs.
A Breckinridge County native, Embry, 32, was hired as Grayson County's Public Health Director in December and has made it his mission to highlight and build upon the health department's successful programs, including WIC, HANDS, environmental services, and community health education.
Educating the community in particular is a passion for Embry, who initially pursued a career in education prior to entering into the health field. He worked as a substitute teacher at Grayson County Middle School before starting a more than six-and-a-half-year career at Breckinridge Health, at which he worked until being hired as Grayson County Public Health Director.
At Breckinridge Health, he began as an emergency room admittance clerk and worked his way up to Safety Emergency Preparedness Compliance Coordinator. After high school, he earned a Bachelor of Science in Education from Western Kentucky University, as well as a Master's in Safety Security Emergency Mangaement from Eastern Kentucky University and a Master's in Business Administration from Western Governors University.
But his passion for teaching continues, as, for more than two years, he has started his days at around 4 a.m. teaching English to children in China through VIPKid. It is this passion for education that is inspiring him and the health department to inform the public about a new epidemic on the rise: human trafficking.
Embry said human trafficking is a growing issue that is plaguing both Kentucky and the country as a whole, and has made its way to Grayson County. With January being Human Trafficking Awareness Month, the Grayson County Health Department is beginning an awareness campaign aimed at educating the community on the issue and how to address it and report it.
"Based on our clinic services, we know for a fact it is happening in our community," Embry said.
According to Embry, human trafficking is not solely related to sex, it also includes human labor, and can be drug-related as well.
In many instances, people are brought into the country and forced to provide unpaid labor to work off a debt to the person who brought them here, according to Embry.
Additionally, underage children can be victims of human trafficking without ever leaving their homes, by being deceived into sharing explicit images of themselves with people online. These images are then widespread, which falls under the umbrella of human trafficking, health department officials say.
"It's definitely happening in small, rural towns," said Embry.
In addition to human trafficking, the health department is also looking into alternative methods for treating the drug problem in Grayson County that do not involve the implementation of a harm reduction/needle exchange program.
Embry wants to shed the misconception that the Grayson County Health Department is primarily dedicated to the treatment and prevention of STDs. In addition to this service and those listed above, the health department also assists with family planning; provides referrals for grief counseling; and offers cancer screenings, immunizations, and restaurant inspections, among others.
For more information about the Grayson County Health Department and its programs and initiatives, visit http://graysonhealthcenter.com or call 270-259-3141.
(provided by Kentucky Office of Rural Health)