Hot! Simcoe clinic in a grocery store breaks barriers for migrant farm workers

TheStar.com – News/Immigration – A new weekly clinic in Simcoe shuttles migrant farm workers to regular care — and helps reduce visits to a hospital emergency department by 80 per cent.
Dec 14 2014.   By: Nicholas Keung, Immigration reporter

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 initiative is a collaborative effort of various community partners, including local academics, immigrant services groups, the Occupational Health Clinic for Ontario Workers and even the Superstore, where pharmacist Eustace Orleans-Lindsay persuaded the store to allow the clinic to operate in its unused space and provide the free shuttle.

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. “They are happy they are treated with respect and kindness and are surprised that this is such a warm and friendly environment.”

While the clinic’s focus on primary care helps divert unnecessary visits to a hospital emergency room, Keefer said it can only do basic clinical diagnoses and health promotion and must refer patients with more complicated conditions to specialists.

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.

“Some of the other guys sometimes get pretty stressed. They come in good health, but the pressure gets to them. They need a place like this.”

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1 Comment

  1. Immigrants in todays society are faced with barriers that can be reflected through discrimination regarding policies and services. An an example of this would be the language barrier in most offices including hospitals, clinics, and other important services. Why is it that these services are not prepared and trained for different types of clients, and the ones that are have limited access? This can reflect how people who are classified as an immigrant are expected to go the extra mile in order to get basic care and support that is rightfully theirs. Many immigrant workers are also being forced to comprise their health in order to maintain their job and their income, resulting in serious workplace risks. Having the Simcoe clinic available is a great opportunity to overcome some of these barriers, however it saddens me that in todays day and age this is the best we can do to help. In order to recognize barriers, it’s important to look at why services being offered for immigrants are not up to the standards that myself and many others are able to receive. In order to overcome the discrimination that we as a country have allowed to occur we need to look at the large work and health related risks that these workers are forced to face. As well as the growing increase for job insecurity and address it. By recognizing the effects marginalization has we can start to allow people to feel comfortable with their culture. Its time to end the exploitation and start recognizing equality.

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