National Health Center Week: Migrant Health Centers in their Communities

Migrant health centers play a vital role in educating their communities on health risks associated with farm work. A farmworker’s health and well-being is impacted by his/her living and working conditions.  Often, farmworkers perform hazardous work and live in substandard housing.  Hours of performing backbreaking and repetitive tasks put farmworkers at risk for musculoskeletal injuries.  Farmworkers and their families suffer both acute and long-term illnesses due to exposure to pesticides in the fields, in the air and in the water.  Poor sanitary conditions in the fields and in unsafe housing can result in gastrointestinal diseases.  Farmworkers also disproportionately suffer from hypertension and diabetes, due to their food insecurity and poor diets.  According to national health center data collected by the Health Resources and Services Administration (the agency within the Department of and Health and Human Services that oversees community and migrant health centers), 59,756 patients were diagnosed with hypertension and 53,000 patients were diagnosed with diabetes in 2010.

Recently, I had the opportunity to join outreach staff from Blue Ridge Community Health Center in Hendersonville, NC.  We drove out to farmworker trailers just as the workers were arriving home from the fields.  The workers recognized the outreach staff and warmly received them. The health outreach workers provided the farmworkers with information about steps they could take to keep themselves physically and mentally healthy.  In addition to these health education materials, the staff also handed out health supplies including toothpaste, toothbrushes, water, and condoms.  The outreach staff spoke with the farmworkers about pesticide safety, sexual health, and their general well-being.  It was clear that the health center staff was well-respected and had gained the trust of the community in which they worked.

My interaction with Blue Ridge Community Health Center staff demonstrated the strong relationship that health centers can establish with farmworkers.  Through outreach staff, promotores de salud (community health workers), and community partnerships, migrant health centers can break down many common barriers that farmworkers face in accessing healthcare, and become actively engaged in the overall health and well-being of their communities.

Farmworker Justice has a long history of working with promotores de salud (community health workers) affiliated with community-based organizations and healthcare institutions to educate farmworkers on a range of health issues, including occupational health and safety, HIV/AIDS prevention, and environmental health.  Please contact me for more information about FJ’s training curricula, outreach guides, and educational materials which can be used by migrant health centers to assist in their outreach efforts.