USF medical students discuss farmworker healthcare
Floridaâs farmworkers, many of whom are migrants and undocumented immigrants, often donât have access to quality healthcare.
This afternoon, students at USFâs College of Medicine discussed the barriers to health care access for Floridaâs farmworkers and how to promote health justice.
The International Health Service Collaborative and Project World Health organized the discussion.
David Sallman, a second year medical student at USF and president of Project World Health, said that Floridaâs farm workers have trouble accessing quality health care.
âI know itâs very difficult. The biggest problem is many of them are undocumented and so they donât have Social Security numbers so that prevents health care at many places. So itâs very difficult for them, and money is also an issue, so itâs a big problem right now.â
One of the other student organizers of the discussion, Annabella Ferrari, is also a second-year medical student at USF and a member of Project World Health. She said that one of the barriers for migrant workers getting healthcare in Florida is language, especially for migrants who only speak their indigenous languages.
âWe can get around the Spanish pretty easily. Lots of people speak Spanish. But even with that, in different countries, there will be different words that are more common. Like in Mexico, some Spanish words will be used that I might not know. Iâm from Venezuela. â¦ So even within Spanish thereâs difficulties. But a lot of the migrant workers donât even speak Spanish; they speak some of the native Mexican languages. Back in Mexico, the indigenous populations are isolated themselves, so they donât get the double language education, Spanish and their indigenous language. So when they come here, thatâs all they speak and itâs even harder to find somebody who can interpret for them.â
According to Ferrari, another barrier to healthcare access for Floridaâs farmworkers is the fear of being captured by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which used to be called the INS.
âA lot of them are, of course, undocumented so they fear coming to access care because they know they will be asked information: their phone number, their address. So theyâre afraid we will turn them in to INS because they are undocumented. So because of the fear of being deported, they wonât even try to access the care.â
Even though there are organizations trying to provide medical care to migrant workers in Florida, Ferrari said those workers still probably donât receive the same level of health care as U.S. citizens.
âI think it is the people in Dover, they have the San Jose Mission. They try to provide a lot of care for them. They see adults and children for free. A lot is volunteer based, but since it is volunteer based, they donât have as many resources; they donât have necessarily all the connections to specialists. If they have to have surgery or special procedures, itâs a lot more difficult for them. If somebody needs a transplant, they wonât even try; theyâll get in contact with the Mexican Embassy and try to arrange for them get a trip back home, so that theyâll get a transplant back home. So definitely I think itâs a lot more difficult for them to access care, even though I know there are a lot of groups of people who are trying to help them out.â
David Sallman said that one program that could be helpful in providing farmworkers with healthcare, Florida Healthy Kids, often has too many bureaucratic hurdles.
âThereâs so much paperwork involved that theyâll get approval for funding to have medical services for their kid, but migrant workers often are moving around, changing addresses all the time, and any time they do that thereâs a big holdup and itâs basically more trouble to do it than to not do it. They wonât use the funds that are there, thatâs why you see them in the emergency room so often because thereâs nowhere else to go. Theyâre not going to get the care they want in an emergency room, but they wonât be turned away.â
Sallmanâs group, Project World Health, collects funds and drug donations from local physicians in order to take a team of doctors, medical students and nurses to the Dominican Republic each year for a weeklong free medical clinic. At the end of the week, they leave the residents any unused drugs.
âWe treat people. We have a local physician who sets up places. Sometimes weâll do a clinic in [a] house, sometimes at school. And theyâll line up and wait all day to see us. We probably average about 2000 patients over the week.â
WMNF asked Sallman to compare the medical care of people in the Dominican Republic with farmworkers in Florida.
âItâs really very similar in that both of them really have almost zero access to medical care. I would say the situation is slightly more dire in the Dominican Republic, at least the area that we go to. And the fact that thereâs no governmental programs or anything set up to help them, where we do have a few privately funded things, like thereâs a Catholic Mission group. So Iâd say itâs slightly more dire in the Dominican Republic, but really both of them is zero access to care and lack of medications.â
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