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Getting Vaccines to Returning Migrant Farmers

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Thursday, March 18, 2021   

OLATHE, Colo. -- Colorado farms are bringing back seasonal workers to get started on this year's crops, and community health centers are gearing up to ensure they can access health care and COVID-19 vaccines.

Kaye Hotsenpiller, chief operations officer for River Valley Family Health Center, which serves Olathe, Montrose and Delta on the Western Slope, said migrant workers face unique risks.

Frequently, more than 20 farmers work alongside each other every day, and go home together at night to dormitory-like settings.

"They have a common kitchen, common living room," Hotsenpiller explained. "And so, if one of them goes to a supermarket and brings it back, it's highly likely that they will all get it."

River Valley staff will travel to farms starting in late March.

Providers will offer COVID vaccines, along with primary, dental and mental-health care. They'll also screen for cholesterol levels and other indicators to identify and treat diabetes or other health conditions.

Staff will make a second trip to farms at a later date to complete the vaccine regimen.

Hotsenpiller noted relationships built with community leaders over the years helped pave the way for delivering care during the coronavirus pandemic.

She added many farms bring back the same workers each year, so patients already are on file in the River Valley system.

"It's about trust, so it's about those workers trusting what we do," Hotsenpiller stated. "They know that we're safe, and they know that River Valley is a trusted source of health care."

Axis Health System is a Federally Qualified Health Center in Durango that's been distributing vaccines to agricultural communities since January.

The group has also expanded outreach efforts to connect farmworkers with care, and will host a booth at the Four States Ag Expo in Cortez later this month.


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