From MontereyHerald.com, “Clinics seek to improve farmworker health” by Claudia Meléndez Salinas, Herald Staff Writer, 1 Apr 2011.
On the birthday of the leader who worked hardest to improve the lives of farmworkers, a local network of clinics said little progress has been made in the last two decades to improve their health and economic conditions.
Poor wages, seasonal employment and limited access to health care have kept farmworkers at the bottom rung of the socioeconomic scale, according to a policy brief prepared for the Central Coast Health Network by consultant Arnoldo Torres.
The brief was released Thursday at one of the 10 clinics of Clinica de Salud del Valle de Salinas, a 30-year-old network that has been serving about 35,000 patients a year, most of them farmworkers along the Salinas Valley.
To announce the findings, Clinica de Salud’s executive director Max Cuevas was surrounded by its board of directors, farmworkers and representatives of local elected officials.
Among the data compiled in the brief: California’s agricultural industry generated $20 billion annually in revenue as of 2004. Almost two-thirds of single farmworkers earned less than $15,000 a year. Nearly 70 percent lacked health insurance as of 2000, the most recent available figure. The incidence of high blood pressure is greater among farmworkers than the general population. Many farmworkers do not participate in employer-offered health plans because they can’t afford the premiums.
For conditions to change, there needs to be a more concentrated effort in tackling the underlying causes. But Cuevas said there were four things that could be done to begin addressing the problem:
- Suspend the realignment of state services until counties are given benchmarks for serving farmworkers. Gov. Jerry Brown proposed transferring some services now provided by the state to local governments as part of his budget plan.
- Create incentives for county-based federally qualified health centers to expand services to farmworkers. Clinica de Salud is a federally qualified health center, a designation under the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that allows for greater reimbursement of Medicare and MediCal.
- Create a task force to design comprehensive, long-term strategies for improving the health and working conditions of California farmworkers.
- Require the task force to work with philanthropic foundations to survey farmworkers regularly and share their findings with government and the Legislature.
Julie Edgecombe, director of clinic services for the Monterey County Health Department, said the county has benchmarks for all patients — not specifically for farmworkers. But because occupation is among the information gathered from patients, reports about farmworkers could be generated, she said.
“Our clinic is open to all people regardless of their ability to pay,” Edgecombe said. “Today is the first day (Cuevas) indicated he wanted us to look at the number of farmworkers” being served.
Because the event was also a celebration of Cesar Chavez’s birthday, about a dozen supporters of the United Farm Workers gathered around the clinic’s parking lot, waving the black and red UFW flag and chanting the union motto, “Si se puede.”
Eleuterio Ortiz, a 32-year-old broccoli harvester who has worked for D’Arrigo Bros. for six years, said he has health insurance but has never gone to the doctor.
He has never been hurt and doesn’t suffer from back problems, he said.
“But I’ve seen many compatriots who have accidents, break their arms and have no health insurance,” he said.
Claudia Meléndez Salinas can be reached at 753-6755 or firstname.lastname@example.org.