Blog post by Linda Chamiec-Case, Seasonal Outreach Worker
Every Thursday during the growing season (June-October) the NC Farmworkers’ Project gears up for our weekly farmworker clinic at Benson Area Medical Center (BAMC). Outreach workers at the Project partner with the health center to provide high-quality, accessible medical services to farmworkers in the area. Throughout the week leading up to the clinic, outreach workers field calls from farmworkers and schedule appointments in preparation for Thursday. On Thursday, work phones ring and buzz all day as outreach workers and farmworkers work to iron out the evening’s details. Around 4 pm, all the outreach workers gather around our communal office table, chatting, laughing and joking. Maria distributes copies of the “final” appointment list for the night (pro tip: it’s never truly final). We divvy up routes: who’s going where, to give who a ride. As suddenly as it started, the chatter and hubbub in the office evaporates as everyone peels out–scattering to Wake, Nash, Wilson, Wayne, Sampson, and Harnett counties, to name a few–to pick up patients for the clinic.
At the clinic
We converge from our trips at BAMC to find Maria filling out paperwork, doing health assessments, and facilitating check-in for the farmworkers. Inside the clinic, doctors, nurses, medical assistants, and interpreters work from 5:30 to…whenever the last patient is seen. This is usually around 11 or 12pm, but can sometimes be well after midnight! Every week we have a flow of volunteers and students coming and going to help interpret and/or see patients. Outside the clinic, outreach workers are also working throughout the night transporting patients. In the waiting room, farmworkers and outreach workers talk, laugh, and chat, festively waiting for the next car to be ready to go.
Any farmworker (or farmworker family member) with whom the Project is working is welcome to come to the clinic. Many are here with H2A guest worker visas, and others are seasonal workers. Farm work is exceedingly demanding work; farmworkers need and deserve access to high-quality medical care while working here in our state. Our Thursday night clinics aim to provide just that. Patients come for all kinds of medical services: physical exams, routine health screenings, chronic disease management, blood pressure checks, gynecological care, work related injuries, life related injuries, rashes, bumps, aches, pains, anxiety, and depression, to name a few. Often the presenting medical needs will vary based on the time of the season. For example, during tobacco season we see lots of rashes, nausea, and muscle aches while sweet potato season brings aching backs and ailing knees.
At the end of each clinic when I’m exhausted, I can’t think straight (in English or Spanish), and my feet hurt, I think about how hard everyone has worked to make this night happen. Making medical diagnoses, drawing blood, giving rides, and interpreting at 11pm is no easy feat. We work really hard each clinic night, but the farmworkers always work harder. After a long, late night at the clinic, they’re going to be up at 5am the next day to work a full day in the fields. When farmworkers come to the clinic, they are choosing to spend their very limited free time and energy to medically care for themselves. This is a huge investment involving a long car ride, sometimes a long wait, patience working with providers through an interpreter, sometimes another wait, and then finally a car ride home. I sincerely appreciate our patients’ trust and willingness to engage with our services. It’s a privilege to provide these farmworkers and their families with basic medical services they need and deserve.