Headlines

As reported by The Hartford Courant, August 8, 2011.

Migrant Farm Workers Receive Free Health Care

UConn Students, Faculty, Volunteers Among Providers

By Nicole Cote

At 6 o'clock on a recent summer night, a small army of volunteers set up tents, tables and medical equipment at Jarmoc Tobacco Farm. Then they waited for their patients some of the roughly 15,000 migrant workers who tend the state's seasonal crops each summer.

Since 1997, students, faculty and volunteers from the University of Connecticut's schools of medicine, pharmacy, nursing and dental medicine, Quinnipiac University's physician's assistant program and Yale's medical school travel to farms throughout the state from June to October with the mobile medical clinic.

"Ten thousand to 20,000 migrant farm workers pass through the state each summer," said clinic creator Dr. Bruce Gould, associate dean of primary care medicine at the UConn Health Center. "These workers do not have insurance," he said of the estimated 200 to 400 workers treated at the clinics.

For the migrant workers, going to the emergency room is their only alternative, said clinic coordinator Jon Winkler, a second-year medical student at UConn.

"When you are delivering health care you have to work on their schedule," said Gould. "We are making health care accessible on their terms."

The clinics have translators available if necessary. The volunteers then take the workers through the series of tables, taking glucose and blood pressure readings.

"We take and record the vitals and then send [the workers] to med or P.A. students who get their [medical] history," said Sherwin Etemad, a sophomore pre-med student at UConn. Then the workers see an attending physician, "who does a whole evaluation," said Etemad. The last stop for the workers is the pharmacy, where they are provided with free basic medicines if necessary. Referrals for subsidized prescriptions can also be made.

Dalton Brown, who came from Jamaica to work at Jarmoc Tobacco Farm, was one of the workers taking advantage of the clinic on a recent summer night. For Brown, "it's easier" to have the clinic come to the farm. Donovan Roper, another worker from Jamaica, agreed. "I appreciate it," Roper said.

The students said they find the hands-on approach to the clinic beneficial to their studies. "It gives us more exposure into what happens and what the doctors talk about," said Etemad. "We are getting our hands dirty and doing what the nurses normally do, so it's not all delayed gratification."

"It's a different perspective. You don't get to see migrant farmers," said Winkler. "It's a whole population that goes unnoticed. You don't get to see it unless you come out with us."

Stephen Jarmoc, the owner of Jarmoc Tobacco Farm, had nothing but praise for the clinic.

"[Clinic volunteers] have been here for 14 or 15 years, and hopefully they'll be here for 14 or 15 more years at least," Jarmoc said.