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As reported by the Daily Campus, September 8, 2009.

UConn Makes Health Care Accessible to Migrant Farm Workers

Every year, from June to October, UConn's Migrant Farm Worker Clinic provides quality health care and health education to disadvantaged migrant families.

The UConn Migrant Farm Worker Clinic makes health care accessible to migrant workers by establishing mobile clinics at their worksites. The program employs student volunteers and professional staff that have the ability to communicate with patients in Spanish.

According to Jenna Koliani, a 2nd-year medical student at the UConn School of Medicine and one of the medical students in charge of coordinating the migrant clinics, the UConn Health Center works to instill a sense of community service into its prospective doctors.

"One of the keys is that the other two medical coordinators and I are big into community service," Koliani said. "Especially helping those who don't have healthcare."

In 2008, these mobile clinics were staffed with 177 health care professional students. Students were employed at 33 clinics statewide-at these clinics, patients are given free primary health care screenings, diagnoses and prevention information. The principal health care issues of migrants are poor nutrition, unsanitary living conditions and work-related injuries. Patients seen at these clinics are prescribed appropriate medications or are referred to a community clinic for a follow-up exam.

The clinics see patients regardless of migratory status. Farm workers in Connecticut may be citizens, have work visas or be undocumented. However, migratory status and the ability to pay for services only constitutes part of the problem for these migrant families. The language barrier is severely limiting. The majority of the migratory workers are of Hispanic - mostly Mexican - origin. About 84 percent of the patients who attend the clinics speak Spanish as their only language. The inability to speak English, the lack of transportation from their work sites and the fear of reprisal should they take time off from work has prevented these migrant workers from seeking proper health care.

The UConn Migrant Farm Worker Clinic opened its doors in 1997, with the aid of the Connecticut Area Health Education Program (CT AHEC). Its goal was to provide free and indiscriminate health care to people typically who fly under the radar in the current health care climate. Most of the 17,000 to 20,000 migratory workers residing in Connecticut make less than $10,000 annually and cannot afford health insurance. Migrant farm workers typically do not subscribe to state and national services such as Medicare and Medicaid, even if they qualify. Migrant workers typically will travel from place to place in order to find work. These services do not allow for frequent migrants to receive benefits.

Providing healthcare that addresses the concerns of migrant workers is only part of the job. Providing prevention methods and health education is crucial to the success of the clinics.

The Promatoro de Salud Program specializes in training one individual from these working communities in basic first aid, CPR and blood pressure monitoring. These healthcare promoters are given books in both English and Spanish as instructional aids. These promoters are then charged with addressing the immediate first aid needs of fellow farm workers.

The Healthcare Outreach Program is geared towards providing health education that addresses the health care concerns of farm workers. Undergraduates play a huge role in running this program. In 2007, over 70 undergraduates from UConn met with about 370 migrant farm workers to address health care topics prevalent in their communities.

Undergraduates can apply for a fellowship to work at the clinics through the Center of Latin American and Caribbean Studies (CLACS). The idea is to allow undergraduates to gain insight into the experience of migrant workers in the United States.

"This program is an opportunity for one student to get funding to go work for the migrant health program," said Mark Overmyer-Velazquez, director of the CLACS and associate professor of history. "This program is a win-win. It is about making that interconnection between community, work and practice."

Alicia Morrison, a 3rd-semester allied health and Spanish major, was the recipient of the fellowship in June 2009.

"It is a good opportunity to get out in the community and help people it's a really underserved population that not a lot of people know about, " said Morrison. "It was a really eye-opening experience. I met a lot of doctors. It was interesting to talk to the migrant workers and listen to their stories. I felt like it enriched everyone."

The clinics rely on medical donations from various private practices and organizations. Medications are donated to the clinics by pharmaceutical companies or from the sample closets of participating physicians. One of the challenges the clinic has to overcome is the shortage of medical supplies going into 2009. The program will need more donations should it hope to remain afloat.

"Our funds are limited," Koliani said. "You want to do so much but you're limited in what you can do. The biggest challenge is wanting to do more."