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Migrant Worker Health is Focus of Nat'l. Conference in CO

May 9, 2012

DENVER - The 2012 National Farmworker Health Conference begins today in Denver, marking the 50th anniversary of the Migrant Health Act.

The law was designed to improve health care and working conditions in farmworker communities. What it does and does not accomplish is one focus of the conference.

Today, much of that care comes from community health centers such as Fort Lupton-based Salud Family Health Centers. Its president and chief executive, Jerry Brasher, says migrant-worker health is an important issue because the whole community benefits when there are no barriers to affordable care.

"That's why migrant farmworkers programs like ours exist - to help out, to provide health-care services to these folks while they're working up here."

Brasher is an organizers of the conference. Some of the issues its participants will consider include understanding how coverage and care might be transformed under the Affordable Care Act, and creating a vision for migrant health care in the future.

The Migrant Health Act means some conditions, such as field sanitation, have improved since 1962, Brasher says, but other requirements, such as housing standards, meant many farmers stopped providing temporary housing for workers - leaving workers and their families no option but to rent rooms in cheap hotels.

"The fact that we've tried to increase the housing for farmworkers has, in fact, kind of backfired on us."

Migrant workers play an important role in America's $297 billion food industry and deserve the same health standards and options as do other Americans, Brasher says.

The conference runs through Friday at the Westin Denver Downtown, 1672 Lawrence St.

Kathleen Ryan, Public News Service - CO