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Closing the Book on the Agricultural Worker Health Conference

The Conference for Agricultural Worker Health was like none other that came before it. Last year, the conference was canceled because of COVID, this year attendees experienced it virtually. This is the only conference dedicated solely to the health and well-being of America’s migratory and seasonal agricultural workers and their families, so it was important to carry on, even if folks couldn’t gather under the same roof. We hope to make this happen next year.

Front and center on the conference agenda was honoring colleagues who have advanced the health center mission and whose contributions have vastly improved the lives of America’s migrant and seasonal agricultural workers. We presented both the 2020 and 2021 awards to health centers and the men and women within their walls who inspire us with their service and compassion and lead this nation to more equitable health care. Their task has not been easy. COVID-19 raged through the agricultural worker population largely because their work harvesting the food for our tables forces them into crowded living and working conditions, leaving them vulnerable to exposure. We salute their heroism, as well as the courage of health center staff who rushed to the front lines of the pandemic to prevent the spread of this deadly virus by testing and vaccinating.

Here are the awardees:

2020/2021 Outstanding Migrant Health Center Awards

InterCare Community Health Network (Bangor, MI)

Since its founding in 1972, InterCare Community Health Network in Michigan has grown into the largest provider of health care to agricultural workers in the Midwest. It serves over 8,000 agricultural worker patients. Its growth through collaborations with other health systems, community organizations, growers, and its affiliation with Migrant Education Schools and Health Start, has spread the delivery of comprehensive health services to a vast rural area to more people..

The Virginia Garcia Memorial Health Center (Aloha, OR) was founded in 1975, named after young girl who died of a foot infection because her farmworker parents did not have access to health care. This tragedy resounded throughout the community and led to action by community leaders. From humble beginnings in a garage, the health center operates 17 clinics, including 5 primary care clinics and pharmacies, 6 dental clinics, a women’s clinic, and 6 school-based health centers. With its mission-driven staff of 650, the center provides care to nearly 50,000 people and has earned the reputation as leader in health care delivery and national attention for its efforts to prevent the spread of COVID through testing and vaccinations of farm workers.

Sunrise Community Health (Evans, CO)

Since the 1970s, Sunrise has provided health care to migrant and seasonal farmworkers. Over the years, outreach teams have traveled throughout Northeastern Colorado to deliver medical and dental care directly to farms, labor camps, and other agricultural employers. Today, their outreach program serves other vulnerable groups in the community including refugees, those living in rural isolation, and those experiencing homelessness. Nearly half (43 percent) of their patients speak a language other than English. At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Sunrise, which operates 12 clinic sites, delivered information about how to access care to over 15,000 families. The informational flyers, distributed in four languages, included notes about how to respond to various COVID-19 symptoms, how to quarantine, and the types of services offered at Sunrise. Sunrise’s mobile clinic also goes directly to farmworkers’ temporary homes to bringing care to them. Prior to the mobile clinic, many farmworkers did not seek health services, which only led to worse health outcomes.

2020/2021 Lifetime Achievement in Migrant Health Awards

Anita Monoian, Yakima Neighborhood Health Services

When Anita Monoian announced her retirement as CEO from Yakima Neighborhood Health Services after some 40 years, the local newspaper, the Yakima Herald took notice, publishing these words: “Thousands of Yakima County residents owe thanks Monoian and Neighborhood Health…. ” Her impact on the health of the community and thousands of agricultural workers was not only recognized in her home state — but tributes flowed from across the country. What started as little more than a vision is today a dynamic regional network providing health care to thousands. Early on, Anita’s foresight and strategic thinking not only led to the success of Neighborhood Health but helped chart a roadmap for resilience and sustainability for all health centers.  As Board Chair of NACHC, she would often say, “Health centers must be more than a safety net. They must become the very foundation of healthcare delivery demonstrating that they serve a broader public, bringing doctors and affordable care to all those who seek their help.”  She leaves us a legacy of unfaltering commitment to health justice. 

Kathryn Brieger, Sun River Health

Kathryn Brieger’s career with farmworker communities in New York State began as a Migrant Health Nutrition Consultant for Hudson River Health Care, now called, Sun River Health. Since then, she’s become part of the executive team overseeing a network of 43 clinics that provide quality and culturally competent care to over 245,000 of its low-income patients, including farmworkers.  Kathy also been an advisor for the National Diabetes Education Program since 2011 and maintains a professional affiliation with the Migrant Clinicians Network.  In addition, she serves as the Executive Director of the Warwick Area Migrant Committee m, a local organization providing service to the migrant community.  Throughout the years, Kathy has been a strong voice of advocacy calling for reforms and regulations to better protect farmworker health and improve working conditions.  She is involved in the efforts now underway at Sun River Health to vaccinate farmworkers and their families and get every patient protected.

Isolina Miranda, COSSMA

COSSMA was founded by Ms. Miranda and a handful of volunteers in Cidra, Puerto Rico back in 1987. She was COSSMA’s first Executive Director and led the center through many challenging times. COSSMA was a lifeline for the local population after Hurricane Maria ravaged the island in 2017, reaching out with a multitude of services for residents that included medical care, transportation, relocation from hospitals, prescriptions, and basic toiletries. COSSMA’s worked around the clock to help communities heal after the massive storm, even working under tents in some locations, because the center’s own buildings were damaged or unsafe, The response by health centers like COSSMA came as many hospitals were closed after the storm while federal and state government agencies tasked to step in after a natural disaster were not up and running. “We couldn’t communicate with anybody,” Miranda recalled to a reporter from the publication NimB, describing the first few days after the storm. “We took our medical services to the communities.”

2020/2021 Outstanding Migrant Health Center Board Member Award

Emma Segarra, Migrant Health Center, , Mayaguez, PR

Emma Segarra has been tireless in generating support for her health center, Migrant Health Center, Western Region in Puerto Rico. Her long and distinguished career has spanned for more than a decade and has had a major impact on the migrant population in the western region of Puerto  Rico.  She has been instrumental in the center’s efforts to strengthen health programs through collaborative partnerships, new ventures or service expansions to better meet the needs of agricultural workers.

John Price, Golden Valley Health Centers

John Price has been a board member of Golden Valley Health Centers for over 30 years, and has served as Chair for more than half of that time. John has shown incredible passion throughout his tenure, remaining active with NACHC and the primary care association. John comes from a farmworker background and understands the challenges that agricultural worker patients face.

2020/2021 Migrant Health Public Service Award

Brodes Hartley, Jr Community Health of South Florida

Colonel Brodes Hartley has stood at the helm of Community Health of South Florida — a health center serving a large multi-ethnic population that includes Black Americans, Bahamians, and migrant and seasonal Farmworkers throughout Miami.   Through his guidance and leadership, it has expanded services — developing model strategies to better meet the complex needs of its diverse patient base.  The center was also the first in the State of Florida to become a Teaching Health Center. The Colonel is outspoken in his advocacy for the Health Center Program. He has won the support of lawmakers, civic leaders and businesses who today understand the value of a community-based health center system of primary care to improve lives and strengthen and protect communities.

Deborah Salazar, Salud Family Health Centers

Deborah Salazar has been the Migrant Health Director at Salud, located in Fort Lupton, CO, since 2013. She is a tireless and passionate advocate for ensuring access to health care for agricultural workers and runs Salud Family Health Center’s mobile health program. Prior to Ms. Salazar joining the center, the farmworker numbers had been steadily decreasing to a low of just under 2,000, largely due to many farms in the area being sold off. Through her immense efforts, Salazar boosted the number of farmworker patients at Salud to over 5,000. She developed relationships with the farms, dairies, nurseries, greenhouses, and other businesses relevant to agricultural work so that she can take the mobile unit to those properties and deliver medical and behavioral health care services. She also sends an advance team out to trailer parks, low-income housing projects, and elsewhere to find agricultural workers where they live. Her team also delivers clothes, insect repellent, food, medicines, and other necessities to the agricultural workers and their families. Ms. Salazar also has developed extensive relationships with the Mexican Consulate in Denver. She takes the mobile unit there several times a year, recognizing that many new immigrants to Colorado will first find work in agriculture.

We honor these health care heroes for their dedication and for their commitment to the health center movement and mission.