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First Annual Medical Outreach Symposium: Issues in Migrant Health


By Brittany Jones, Sojourner’s Truth Reporter

Special Contribution to La Prensa


Universal health care coverage is a recurring, heated debate that has sharply divided U.S.-American society. When it comes to migrant workers and their access to health care, they are often denied—even if they have been in the United States for years. They continue in the cycle of poverty because of small wages and, thus, can rarely afford proper health care.


Efforts to tackle the health issues of migrant workers were addressed at the First Annual Medical Outreach “El Puente de Salud: Issues in Migrant Worker Heath” Symposium at The University of Toledo’s Health Education Building on February 19, 2010, from 1p.m. - 5 p.m. Physicians, students and others gathered to listen to speakers and hear stories of migrant camp experiences.


The goal of the program was to create awareness of health care issues of migrant workers and to get physicians interested in the Mobile Migrant Camp Clinic.


Jen Low, president of Medical Spanish Outreach, saw a need for medical students to learn how to interact with those of a different culture and language.

“This symposium is supposed to inspire the medical students to get out there and not be afraid because of language barriers,” Low said. “We want them to build that relationship with communication and help the migrant workers who need all the health care they can get.”


Vice Provost and Associate Dean of Student Affairs, Patricia J. Metting, Ph.D., together with Provost and Executive Vice President for Health Affairs, Jeffery P. Gold, M.D., the program began with the keynote speaker, Pedro José Greer, M.D.


Dr. Greer takes the Hippocratic oath to another level. Throughout his medical career, he has fought for those who do not have access to healthcare. This passion led to openings of various free clinics for the “homeless, undocumented, migrant, and poor of Miami.”


According to his biography, in 1984, he opened the Camillus Health Concern as a medical intern, which now serves over 10,000 homeless people a year. He has written a book titled “Waking up in America,” an autobiographical chronicle of his early years. It reminisces on stories from treating patients underneath Miami bridges to his days frequenting the White House.


Dr. Greer’s many accomplishments bought him nationwide recognition. He was granted the prominent MacArthur “Genius” Fellowship, three Papal Awards, the Presidential Service Award presented by Presidents Bush, Carter, Clinton and General Colin Powell, plus many more. He recently received the “Medal of Freedom” by President Barack Obama August 2009.

Since he is a physician, Dr. Greer stressed the responsibility of being in this field to future doctors in the audience. He highlighted the fact that knowledge of medicine is just part of the career. Doctors have to learn the surroundings, said Dr. Greer, and realize that they [physicians] are no better than the patients are—they just had more training.


“As a physician, you improve the quality of life by sharing moments, like staying by their bedside through difficult times,” Dr. Greer said. “This is a field of choices—either for the greater good or for your pocketbook.”


The program took a turn towards local migrant camps with Luis Espinoza, R.N., and Wendy Aviña, representative of the Campaign for Migrant Worker Justice.


Espinoza presented the history of the Mobile Migrant Camp Clinic. With the help of the St. Charles Mercy Hospital mobile van, volunteers, medical providers give primary care to the workers during the summer.


In conjunction with the Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC), the clinic gives physical exams, vision screening, HIV/AIDS testing. They also donate food, clothing and provide transportation.


The mobile clinic is partnered with many organizations such as United Way, Food for Thought, Angel’s Arms, and others.


Aviña provided data from the trips, ranging between the years of 2001-2009. Most of the diagnoses were of diabetes and musculoskeletal problems. Other discoveries were that men made up the majority of the migrant camp population and that the average age of workers was getting younger especially after 2003.


She also called for the need of more doctors, translators and people to do HIV testing.

“The demand for doctors is so high now,” Aviña said. “Sometimes we have to turn people away because we do not have enough help.”


To get an inside perspective, Baldemar Velásquez, president of FLOC, discussed the need to improve the relations between workers and owners. His documentary film, titled “The Fields,” recalled an incident in North Carolina where Urbano Ramírez, a migrant worker, died because the owners ignored his complaints of illness. He was found nine days later under a tree. It took FLOC three years to win Ramírez’s worker’s compensation because he was an immigrant and some felt he was not entitled to those benefits.


“The owners have to respect people’s rights to sit down and talk about conditions,” Velasquez said.


The symposium ended with a panel discussion about the access to health care and treatment. It included panelists Richard Paat, M.D. and Joan Duggan, M.D.

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Copyright © 2010 by [LaPrensa Newspaper]. All rights reserved.
Revised: 07/23/12 12:01:58 -0700.





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