Between June 13 and 24, more than 1,000 migrant farm workers and their families will receive much needed health care through the Farm Worker Family Health Project, an annual program coordinated by Emory University's Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing in conjunction with the Ellenton Rural Health Clinic, which is a part of the Georgia Division of Public Health in Colquitt County.
Georgia's migrant farm workers spend as many as 18 hours a day working on farms and at packing houses, picking and sorting vegetables by hand. Due to harvest patterns, these workers and their families travel from farm to farm and state to state to find work, meaning they have little available time to tend to their health needs, let alone have a primary care physician or health insurance.
For the past 12 years, the Farm Worker Family Health Program has provided a two-week intensive health service delivery initiative each June to care for these health needs, which include muscle strains, back problems, foot fungus, urinary tract infections, skin rashes, eye infections, and diabetes. This year with the addition of family nurse-midwives and women's health practitioners, there will be expanded services for women, including pap smears and sexual health education.
According to Judith Wold, PhD, RN, who has directed the Emory program since 2002, "Agriculture is one of the most dangerous occupations in the U.S., and the migrant farm workers are terribly at risk."
Emory's program provides a deeply appreciated service to the workers, she continues, "Some of them are so isolated and away from home, the only time they are touched is when we lay hands on them."
Dr. Wold works with Cynthia Hernandez, director of the Ellenton Rural Health Clinic, to ensure the program complements year-round services that the clinic provides for the community's at risk and underserved farm worker population. "Over the last 12 years we've been able to reach an additional 12,000 people through the Farm Worker Family Health Project that we could not have seen on our own," says Ms. Hernandez.
Laura Rainer, a 2005 BSN graduate and current master's student in Emory's nursing program, assisted with preparations for this year's program and attended last year as a student worker. Her participation in the program cemented her desire to serve vulnerable populations as a nurse. "I've gained knowledge and experience in public health and nursing as well as a deeper understanding of the farm worker community. In the face of many social and health issues, the strength of the farm workers motivated me to work to improve health for the community," she says.
The program, which annually provides health and dental assessments and treatment to 1,000 adults and children, is a collaboration among four Georgia universities: Emory University's Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing, Georgia State University (psychology and physical therapy), Clayton State University and College (dental), and Darton College, in Albany (dental).
Other partners include the Colquitt County Health Department, the Colquitt County Board of Education, the Southern Pine Migrant Education Agency and the owners of farms and packinghouses in the Colquitt County area. Additional support comes from churches and community organizations in the area.