How building a community of care can improve farmworkers’ health

How building a community of care can improve farmworkers’ health


JUDY WOODRUFF: Finally: Farm workers face
major challenges accessing health care. But a group in Southeastern Arizona has a
unique solution that appears to be working. From the Cronkite School of Journalism at
Arizona State University, Anikka Abbott reports. ANIKKA ABBOTT: Bend, pluck, place, repeat. For hours a day, workers at NatureSweet farms
in Southeast Arizona pick tomatoes. It’s work that requires strength, skill, and
good health. Public health expert Jill Guernsey de Zapien
says farmwork often causes muscle and back issues. JILL GUERNSEY DE ZAPIEN, University of Arizona:
Everything for harvesting crops, for packaging them, et cetera, and stuff, it is built to
make it happen fast. It’s not built to protect the body of the
workers. ANIKKA ABBOTT: The National Center for Farmworker
Health says the top three things farm workers suffer from are obesity, hypertension, and
diabetes. Workers like Dillon Valenzuela do what they
can to get ready for the day. DILLON VALENZUELA, Farmworker (through translator):
When we enter, first, we have to exercise, stretch out. Then we put all the protective clothes on
for the greenhouse. ANIKKA ABBOTT: Even though they prepare for
the work, some farmworkers struggle to maintain their own health. Four hundred people work in this tomato plant. The majority of them work here in the greenhouses. And almost 95 percent of them speak Spanish
primarily. Language is one barrier to health care. Access is another, says Gail Emrick, executive
director of the Southeast Arizona Area Health Education Center, or SEAHEC. GAIL EMRICK, Executive Director, Southeast
Arizona Area Health Education Center: Particularly precarious with farmworkers is the type of
labor they’re involved in, if it’s shift work vs. ongoing or formal employment. And so some people might have health insurance
and health coverage, and others may not. ANIKKA ABBOTT: The National Center for Farmworker
Health says almost 53 percent of farmworkers across the country are uninsured. Even some with health insurance have limited
access. The ratio of people to doctors in rural areas
is 2,500 to one. JILL GUERNSEY DE ZAPIEN: It’s not saying necessarily
that we don’t have enough health professionals. It’s saying that they’re not distributed well
throughout the country. ANIKKA ABBOTT: Here in Winchester Heights,
an unincorporated Latino neighborhood just 10 minutes from the farm, there are no doctors. The closest town with a medical facility is
20 minutes away. Enter the Southeast Arizona Area Health Education
Center, whose goal is to help residents in rural areas gain access to health care. In Winchester Heights, they helped build a
community center where public health interns train resident volunteers, known as promotoras
de salud. After receiving training, health care workers,
like Aida Dominguez, go door to door in Winchester Heights to teach their neighbors about better
health, like nutrition and sun protection. AIDA DOMINGUEZ, Health Care Volunteer (through
translator): And then she told me, I am so grateful because, I didn’t know, but now I
know that you have to use a hat. ANIKKA ABBOTT: Latino farmworkers say the
community center and health workers have made an impact on their health. Having promotoras who speak their own language
and come from their own community make a difference. AIDA DOMINGUEZ (through translator): It’s
important to have a social environment and also to be able to help the children, the
youth, the adults, the elders, so we will be united. ANIKKA ABBOTT: Along with health care, the
health education group is now also teaching residents how to run their own nonprofit. They plan to turn the community center over
to the people in Winchester Heights next year. For the “PBS NewsHour,” I’m Anikka Abbott
with Cronkite News in Winchester Heights, Arizona.

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