Health challenges add up for North County migrant farm workers

Health challenges add up for  North County migrant farm workers
Migrant farm workers often face inadequate housing and lack of clean water. Poor living conditions increase their health risks. Photo by Promise Yee

REGION — Vista Community Clinic serves migrant farm workers, but clinic CEO Fernando Sañudo said in-clinic services are really a last stop in the healthcare of farm workers. Shelter, food and water are essential to health, and basics that farm workers have a challenge securing.

Shelter for migrant workers that move from Carlsbad to Del Mar to follow minimum wage work is often self-made structures of scrap wood and plastic tarps.

“Housing always continues to be an issue,” Sañudo said. “They don’t have any type of regular housing for farm workers (in California, as they have in other states).”

Water is sometimes purchased by farm workers, or collected and filtered or boiled.

Food for farm workers, who live in encampments away from public transportation and town, is often limited to what is brought in by food trucks that stop at the fields.

Sañudo said migrant farm workers often pick up poor local eating habits that lead to chronic health conditions such as diabetes and obesity.

“One thing I notice is the longer the men are here, the more they acclimate and start inheriting health conditions of the regular adult population,” Sañudo said.

There are nonprofit groups that are working with farm workers to help them meet basic needs. Interfaith Community Services runs North County Labor Connection programs in Escondido and Carlsbad.

The Escondido labor connection program opened 15 years ago at the suggestion of the Escondido Police Department. It is co-located at Interfaith Community Services’ main office. It provides a safe place to pick up day laborers, and supplies workers with a sack lunch, a hot meal, food pantry services, health assessments, and service referrals.

Interfaith Community Services recently took over operations of the labor connection program in Carlsbad. The program runs out of a trailer and was opened at the request of the city.

“We’re more limited to available food,” Greg Anglea, Interfaith Community Services executive director, said. “We’re working on funding to expand that.”

Like fellow nonprofit groups working to make a dent in the problem Interfaith Community Services and Vista Community Clinic are limited to providing services that funding supports.

Clinics are struggling with operation costs due to reduced federal funds and grants that limit funding to specific services.

Sañudo said federal dollars that previously went to case management, education and transportation were cut last summer. Remaining funds the clinic receives go towards covering farm workers’ clinic visits.

He added farm workers who contribute to California’s $1.5 billion agriculture industry deserve humane living conditions and equitable health services.

Healthcare is more than an individual concern. Public health is essential to everyone, especially in managing communicable diseases.

“The key role clinics play is to be there to go out in the community and identify risks,” Gary Rotto, Council of Community Clinics director of health policy and strategic communications, said.

Rotto added outreach and education are essential to raising the health of the community.

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