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CO Health Centers Pivot to Reach Migrant Workers During Pandemic

Community health centers helped employers implement paid sick-leave policies after migrant workers became eligible under a state guidance. (USDA)
Community health centers helped employers implement paid sick-leave policies after migrant workers became eligible under a state guidance. (USDA)
September 1, 2020

FORT LUPTON, Colo. -- Colorado's community health centers have had to shift gears during the coronavirus pandemic to ensure migrant workers, who harvest the food for dinner tables across the nation, have access to health care.

In addition to increased on-site checkups and distributing Personal Protective Equipment, Deborah Salazar, migrant health director with Salud Family Health Centers, said telehealth services have been critical for workers out in the fields from sunrise to sunset on the state's eastern plains.

"And so for them to actually have to take off time to go somewhere to wait for the doctor, to get into the visit, and then go back somewhere - and especially if transportation is an issue - this is perfect for them," Salazar said.

Many migrant workers were slow to seek care, even when they had COVID-related symptoms, because they couldn't afford not to work. When workers became eligible for paid sick leave after the state issued a guidance that would compensate employers with tax credits, health center staff played a big role helping employers implement the policy.

Dante Gonzales, director of program operations at Valley-Wide Health Systems, said relationships built over the years with community leaders trusted by workers in the San Luis Valley was key for connecting workers with care during the health crisis. He said from March through August, health center staff were able to bump up their outreach efforts by nearly 50% over the same time period in the previous year.

"While people were running away, locking themselves up, this team has just stepped up, went out there, partnered with the community, and made sure that we were doing our best to still give access and touch base with all these individuals that need to be assessed," Gonzales said.

Salazar said the integrated health care model pioneered by Federally Qualified Health Centers, which puts medical, mental and dental care under the same roof, continues to put providers in a good position to meet shifting needs.

"Access to behavioral health right now is as important as the medical side of things, because people are scared," Salazar said. "Having access to that behavioral health piece, for the general population as well as the agricultural workers, is really important."

Additional information and guidance from the state for agricultural workers navigating the pandemic is available at COVID19.colorado.gov.

Eric Galatas, Public News Service - CO