BRADFORD, ON: Simcoe Clinicas De Salud Para Trabajadores Agricolas Migratorios created to serve more than 4,000 migrant farm workers
Dr. Christopher Keefer, from left, Eustace Orleans-Lindsay, pharmacist at the Simcoe Superstore; McMaster University health anthropology graduate student Stephanie Mayell; Isabel Chilean and Lorena Acuna, both translators; and the clinic’s primary care assistant Tricia Gutierrez.
Migrant farm workers have been lining up at Simcoe Town Centre every Thursday or Friday evening since May for a free shuttle bus to the Real Canadian Superstore three kilometres away.
Their focus isn’t groceries so much as a unique health office, Clinicas De Salud Para Trabajadores Agricolas Migratorios, or Agricultural Seasonal Worker Clinic, housed in the food chain’s extra space. The clinic was created to serve the more than 4,000 migrant farm workers toiling at farms and greenhouses in the region south of Brantford.
Designed to eliminate some of the systemic barriers migrant workers face in getting basic health care, the pilot project has been a resounding success — reducing visits by such workers to the Norfolk General Hospital by 80 per cent.
“These folks work long hours and have no transportation. Some don’t speak the language,” said Peter Szota, executive director of the Grand River Community Health Centre, which runs the clinic. “This is a great example of breaking down the barriers for access.”
Each year, more than 18,000 migrant farm workers come to Ontario to plant, tend and harvest food for Canadians. All of them pay taxes, contribute to the Canada Pension Plan and are entitled to provincial health care services.
Although many suffer occupational illness such as musculoskeletal injuries, or live with unmanaged chronic diseases and conditions such as high blood pressure and diabetes, most don’t seek care until they’re truly sick.
Jacquie Maund, of the Association of Ontario Health Centres, said ill workers are afraid they’ll be let go if they’re found to be sick and can’t work. Some simply work long hours and lack transportation to seek care in rural communities during normal business hours, she added.
For years, the Norfolk Health Care Accessibility Committee had worked to collect information, document the problem and seek funding to fill the gaps. Finally, this year, it received $75,000 seed funding from the Hamilton Niagara Haldimand Brant Local Health Integration Network.
The clinic has a reception area, two examination rooms and a waiting room, and opens once a week, from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m., staffed with a physician, administrative assistant and a couple of translators.
Dr. Christopher Keefer said as many as 30 workers visit the clinic during a given shift; about 60 per cent are Spanish-speaking patients from Mexico, the rest from various Caribbean countries.
“The Mexicans are just so relieved to find somebody who speaks their language and understands their culture,” said Keefer, who happens to speak Spanish.
However, the workers are just grateful for the new clinic.
“Having this clinic here means a lot. I have been coming to (work in) Canada for the past 30 years, and this is the first time I am able to come to see a doctor regularly,” said a seasonal worker from Jamaica.