Providing health care to migrant farm workers not only meets a critical need but acknowledges the important contribution these families make to the local economy, says Jon Soffer, a nurse practitioner with Mid-Columbia Medical Center.

“I think it’s critical for us to give back to this community by improving their health because they are a cornerstone of the industry,” he said. “This is an opportunity to show that we appreciate the work they are doing.”

During the 2018 cherry harvest, he said 200 adults and children received primary care and specialty medical services from Serving Oregon and its Migrants by Offering Solutions (SOMOS) team.

“It’s gratifying to see that they are comfortable with the program now and want to get involved,” he said. This is the third year for the program, and they saw a record number of people.

“I felt like we had a lot of people coming back who I recognized or who remembered us and I saw that as a good sign.”

Outreach was expanded this year to incorporate Mosier orchard with an event at the local school. In addition, the team of professionals from MCMC and its community partners set up at Curtiss Orchards, Orchard View and McClaskey Orchard.

MCMC brought Spanish language providers and interpreters to each of the four onsite visits. Families had access to primary care, physical therapy, preventative care education, glucose screening, and blood pressure testing.

They were also provided with information about other available community resources.

Blanca Flores is the bilingual outreach coordinator of the Breast Health Center run by MCMC. She said it was important to provide women with information about the symptoms of cancer and the lifesaving value of early detection.

She said the SOMOS team was available from 5 to 7 p.m. during the weeks of harvest, which provided time for workers to get out of the field at 3 p.m. and get some chores done before they visited with medical personnel.

“A lot of the workers have medical needs but don’t know that it is important for them to see a doctor regularly,” said Flores.

“It is so much easier to have those conversations when we are in the environment where they are comfortable. I feel like we’re gaining their trust.”

Spanish-language children’s book were distributed through the Reach Out and Read Program, and MCMC Family Medicine donated dozens of cans of formula.

Fresh produce and other food supplies were dispersed through the Mid-Columbia Health Foundation’s Breast Health for Strong Families program. Nutritional guideline information was dispersed.

Additional resources were provided by One Community Health, WorkSource Oregon, The Next Door, Wells Fargo bank and Haven from Domestic Abuse.

“This event really shows the heart of the community,” said Stephanie Bowen, MCMC community outreach coordinator.

“Part of our mission is to lead and act as a catalyst in promoting health for all people, and this is a shining example. Each year, the event continues to grow, both in the number of people served and the organizations that collaborate with us.”

Soffer helped establish SOMOS on the model of a larger program he had participated in while a student at Emory University in Atlanta, Ga.

He said many obstacles can prevent migrant and seasonal workers from accessing health care. Because these families follow the fruit, he said they often don’t know what services are available in the communities where they work. In addition, they labor for long hours during harvest, which makes it difficult for them to arrange medical appointments.

“They can have a challenging life so, hopefully, they leave here seeing the benefit of these resources,” said Soffer. “It’s hugely gratifying being involved in this program that serves a huge part of the population during the summer months and I hope we continue to grow.”

Soffer is hopeful to add more camps to the list of places to visit. He also wants to enlist the help of area dentists because tooth care was a critical need expressed by the farm workers.

“What we were able to do was provide them with information about affordable dental care,” he said. “The more we bring to people that is relevant for them, the more successful we will be.”

For more information about SOMOS, email Bowen at stephaniela@mcmc.net.

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