July 1, 2022
Westside Family Healthcare Serves Community Farm Workers; Chamber Connections, vol 45, no. 7, July 1, 2022, pp. 11. https://www.cdcc.net/wp-content/uploads/2022/07/Chamber-Connections-July-2022-For-the-Web.pdf.
DOVER, DE – One of the best things about summer is your favorite fruits and vegetables coming into season. For a few months we get to savor the bright taste of our favorites, ripened to perfection. For many of us, summertime is synonymous with strawberries, watermelon, cantaloupe, peaches, sweet corn, squash, cucumbers and tomatoes, just to name a few. We get excited when we stop by that familiar roadside farm stand to stock our cooler on the way to the beach, but most of us rarely take a minute to think about how our summer favorites are now within arm’s reach.
Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Workers (MSAW) work long, strenuous hours, under intense conditions to get fresh, favorite foods to our plates. The physically demanding nature of the work highlights a common lesson learned from the COVID-19 pandemic that “health is indeed wealth.” Without healthy agricultural workers working every day, our plates, minds, and bodies would be missing nutrients, happiness and energy. Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Workers throughout Delaware generate revenue, improve quality of life, and build a sense of community.
A community resource that understands these implications fully is Westside Family Healthcare, a federally qualified health center with locations throughout Delaware, including Dover. Since 2011, Westside has provided care for Delaware’s agricultural workers, a community significantly underserved and incredibly essential. The CDCC met with three Westside representatives to learn more about how they are caring for this special community, leading health equity for all and supporting the local agriculture industry.
Primary care services, hygiene kits, towels, toothpaste, vaccines, PPE, point-of-care testing are just a few items and services workers can utilize from Westside’s Mobile Health Unit (MHU). The MHU is a traveling hub of healthcare services, wellness items and transportation. Reynaldo Gomez, supervisor of Rural Health Outreach, knows he’s done something good when he sees the smile on the faces of farmworkers after receiving much needed care through medical services or by being able to provide the workers with arm sleeves that protect them from sunburn, insects and pesticides. Gomez oversees the MHU’s operations as it serves an average 60 patients a week. The MHU travels to farms and housing encampments after work hours so the workers can receive care and not miss work. Gomez appreciates that Fifer’s farm knows the value in keeping their workers healthy. Reynaldo shares that for many this is the only way workers can get healthcare because it resolves their transportation and financial barriers. He also makes connections with individuals and organizations who may know of communities who need access to healthcare or who are interested in donating items or services to help with hygiene kit items and assembly.
Erica Patosky, Certified Nurse Practitioner, loves the opportunity to provide hands-on care to this community, especially at Fifer’s because of the relationships she’s built with patients in her care. It is greatly gratifying for her to follow-up with a farmworker at Fifer’s and hear good news that they’ve lowered their blood pressure and cholesterol, or received a vaccine or relief from their chronic pain. She also likes that she can provide holistic care at the time of the patient appointment. This can mean seeing a patient who is sick and prescribing and providing an antibiotic stocked on the MHU. The patient does not have to travel to a pharmacy to receive treatment. Patosky notes that this initiative is a total team effort that she is so proud to be a part of, whether that is completing physicals, delivering medications, or just being a kind, familiar face to the workers.
Patosky’s teammates revere her as a hero who is always ready and willing to help someone in need, wherever and whenever that may be. She credits her inspiration to be her “innate desire to help people. The workers are so thankful; it just feels good” to help workers through the MHU. Although there are many long nights spent working on the MHU, Patosky loves it because the work is so rewarding and keeps her engaged. Hearing “you saved my life!” from a worker in need makes it all worth it for her. Patosky sees the future of this initiative and mission of the MHU growing, specifically for women’s health. She is working hard to see that more care options for fetal and pregnant mothers become available.
Leading the rural health outreach team is Debbie Bryant, director of Clinical Operations and Family Nurse Practitioner, who oversees the logistics of the MHU like staffing, relationships with the farm owners, addressing language barriers, and communicating with Westside’s MSAW advisory committee to name a few. Bryant has been fortunate to see this initiative grow and evolve from its infancy in 2011. Over this time period of her working for agricultural workers she has created amazing relationships that have contributed to the outreach of the program.
The COVID-19 pandemic and its challenges shifted her team’s focus to realize that their work is more important than ever. Bryant is passionate about being an advocate for health care access for all, regardless of ability to pay, and “closing the loop” on the social determinants of health for the holistic wellbeing of the person. Bryant believes the MHU is a unique way to reduce these disparities of the workers and the farms, like Fifer’s, who are proactive in caring for the workers who put food on our tables. She is thankful for the local community partnerships she has made that continue to make this program a success, especially during peak summer season.
The team at Westside Family Healthcare serving the farmworker community here in Delaware sees the positive impact their work is doing. WFH is helping to avoid hospitalizations, empower the underserved, and support one of Delaware’s biggest industries. The effects of their work impact the Central Delaware community because of the privilege of enjoying fresh foods that help us lead healthier, happier lives. Westside Family Healthcare is a community healthcare leader not only in Delaware, but the country, showing what it truly means to care for others and your community from the inside out.
If you are interested in learning more about the life-saving work, donating, or getting involved in Westside’s mission, please visit their website at www.westsidehealth.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Join the Central Delaware Chamber of Commerce in appreciating the men and women who work tirelessly to put food on our tables, and those who see the critical need to support them. Thank you for all that you do to keep our community safe, happy and healthy!