Safety-Net for Uninsured Salinas Farm-Workers

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Farm-workers in the Salinas Valley.

Farm-workers in the Salinas Valley. (photo: Patricia Carillo)

Though there are many groups advocating for farm-worker rights, like the United Farm Workers of America and Farmworker Justice, not much has changed since the days of Cesar Chavez to improve their safety and health. On June 28, 2011 California Governor Jerry Brown vetoed SB 104, the Fair Treatment for Farm Workers Act that would have allowed California farm-workers to unionize and demand safe working conditions and “prevent negligent farm conditions from leading to serious medical conditions and death.” This bill could have helped the 70 percent of farm-workers in Salinas that don’t have health insurance and can’t see a doctor when they are sick because medical care is too expensive.

It's already known that injustice towards farm-workers exists - I blogged about how many farm-workers don't have health insurance - but some programs do try to help the uninsured farm-worker population in Salinas. One is Clinica de Salud del Valle de Salinas (CSVS), a network of health clinics that serves nearly 35,000 patients a year, mostly all from the farm-worker community. CSVS has provided comprehensive healthcare to women, children and men in Monterey County at a low or reduced cost since 1980. The clinic also offers health education, case management and health screenings in their office or through the use of their mobile health clinics.

“I am a farm-worker and my employer does not offer insurance for us because the work is only seasonal,” says Maria Sandoval in Spanish. Sandoval has been working as a farm-worker in the Salinas Valley for seven years.

“I go to CSVS because the fees they charge are based on your income," she says. "It is also within walking distance from my home, which is important because I don’t know how to drive and I can walk to the doctor’s office with my kids.”

Salinas is also home to Natividad Medical Center, a safety-net hospital owned and operated by the County of Monterey. A safety-net hospital “provides a significant level of care to low-income, uninsured, and vulnerable populations [PDF].” Only 15 of California’s 450-plus hospitals and health care systems are safety-net hospitals. These 15 hospitals provide 50 percent of all hospital care for California’s 6.6 million uninsured. Natividad provides healthcare access to all patients regardless of their ability to pay. About 80-90 percent of patients seen at Natividad Medical Center are farm-workers, come from a farm-worker family, or are related to the agriculture industry in some way.

Hopefully in the future more will be done at a policy level to insure that all farm-workers have access to health insurance. Though it may take many years for this to happen, it is reassuring to know that there is a safety-net for the uninsured farm-worker population living in Salinas in the meantime.

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About Patricia Carrillo

ABOUT PATRICIA CARRILLO I am a life-time resident of Salinas, California, located within Monterey County. I come from a largely farm-working and immigrant community: the East Side of Salinas. Since childhood I have become aware of many of the health issues and injustices that plague the farm-working population and my community as a whole. Because of this I have always been interested in health issues, and after obtaining my Bachelor of Science in Business Administration from San Jose State University in 2004, I decided to pursue a career that would help me become a leader within my community and help to address some of the health issues that are affecting it. For the past five years I have been working for the Agriculture & Land-Based Training Association, a local non-profit organization that trains aspiring organic farmers. My position there has helped to broaden my knowledge of health issues in my community. I hope that I can provide readers a deeper understanding of Salinas, including the health issues that affect the city and what the community is doing in response to these problems. Despite being known mostly for the prevalence of gang violence, there are many wonderful things happening in Salinas that will help to improve the health of our community and shape its future for generations to come.

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