USF medical students discuss farmworker healthcare

10/17/07 Seán Kinane
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Florida’s farmworkers, many of whom are migrants and undocumented immigrants, often don’t have access to quality healthcare.

This afternoon, students at USF’s College of Medicine discussed the barriers to health care access for Florida’s 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 Florida’s farm workers have trouble accessing quality health care.

“I know it’s very difficult. The biggest problem is many of them are undocumented and so they don’t have Social Security numbers so that prevents health care at many places. So it’s very difficult for them, and money is also an issue, so it’s a big problem right now.”

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.

“We 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. I’m from Venezuela. … So even within Spanish there’s difficulties. But a lot of the migrant workers don’t even speak Spanish; they speak some of the native Mexican languages. Back in Mexico, the indigenous populations are isolated themselves, so they don’t get the double language education, Spanish and their indigenous language. So when they come here, that’s all they speak and it’s even harder to find somebody who can interpret for them.”

According to Ferrari, another barrier to healthcare access for Florida’s farmworkers is the fear of being captured by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which used to be called the INS.

“A 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 they’re afraid we will turn them in to INS because they are undocumented. So because of the fear of being deported, they won’t even try to access the care.”

Even though there are organizations trying to provide medical care to migrant workers in Florida, Ferrari said those workers still probably don’t receive the same level of health care as U.S. citizens.

“I 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 don’t have as many resources; they don’t have necessarily all the connections to specialists. If they have to have surgery or special procedures, it’s a lot more difficult for them. If somebody needs a transplant, they won’t even try; they’ll get in contact with the Mexican Embassy and try to arrange for them get a trip back home, so that they’ll get a transplant back home. So definitely I think it’s 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.”

David Sallman said that one program that could be helpful in providing farmworkers with healthcare, Florida Healthy Kids, often has too many bureaucratic hurdles.

“There’s so much paperwork involved that they’ll 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 there’s a big holdup and it’s basically more trouble to do it than to not do it. They won’t use the funds that are there, that’s why you see them in the emergency room so often because there’s nowhere else to go. They’re not going to get the care they want in an emergency room, but they won’t be turned away.”

Sallman’s 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.

“We treat people. We have a local physician who sets up places. Sometimes we’ll do a clinic in [a] house, sometimes at school. And they’ll line up and wait all day to see us. We probably average about 2000 patients over the week.”

WMNF asked Sallman to compare the medical care of people in the Dominican Republic with farmworkers in Florida.

“It’s 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 there’s no governmental programs or anything set up to help them, where we do have a few privately funded things, like there’s a Catholic Mission group. So I’d say it’s slightly more dire in the Dominican Republic, but really both of them is zero access to care and lack of medications.”

Learn more:

Project World Health



Florida Healthy Kids

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