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The 2023 Migrant Health Awards

NACHC’s Marilynne Mikulich contributed significantly to this article.

One of the highlights of the Conference for Agricultural Worker Health is the Migrant Health Awards ceremony. As Paloma Hernandez, NACHC Chair Elect of the Board and CEO of Urban Health Plan in New York, said about this year’s awardees:

“In a world that is increasingly beset with problems and tragedy, they inspire us by the example they set, their belief that we can become a more compassionate and just society – if we all do our part.”

Outstanding Migrant Health Center: Blue Ridge Community Health Services

The award is presented to a migrant health center that has demonstrated excellence and innovation in service delivery to Migrant and Seasonal Farmworkers. Incidentally, this year Blue Ridge Health is celebrating its 60th anniversary. It was one of the first Migrant Health Centers established, following the signing of the Migrant Health Act in 1962 by U.S. President John F. Kennedy. Dr. MaryShell Zaffino, Chief Medical Officer and Kenett Melgar, Vulnerable Populations Manager, accepted the award.

The history of Blue Ridge Health mirrors the history of the Migrant Health Program. Its beginnings in Hendersonville, North Carolina were humble. Yet, it took root, thanks to nurturing by the founders, the doctors and nurses who volunteered, and people from the community who saw the great need for health care among hardworking Migrant and Seasonal Farmworkers. Learning to serve a population afflicted by hardship, the health center developed, like all Migrant Health Centers, the models of practice and core components that have defined the primary care home: patient-focused, culturally-sensitive care, patient education, bilingual services, outreach and enabling services.

Today, Blue Ridge Health is a vital and thriving community health system that serves a diverse population of some 45,000 patients in a 10 county-wide area. It has grown to include 22 primary care and behavioral sites and 34 school-based health centers. It is also a Teaching Health Center.

Thanks to the dedicated work of board members, administrators, clinical team and staff, it is leading the way and proving the value of a community-based health system for all people. 

Outstanding Migrant Health Center Board Members

The Outstanding Migrant Health Center Board Member Award recognizes service and commitment on the Board of a Migrant Health Center. This year we honored two individuals.

Victoria has served for 18 years on the Board of Directors of San Benito Health Foundation in California.

Victoria Montoya, Board Member, San Benito Health Foundation

Born in Mexico and the daughter of migrant farmworkers, her roots run deep in the Migrant Health Movement. Back in the 1970’s, as a community activist, she gathered signatures from farmworkers — an effort that ultimately led to the creation a health center for agriculture workers in San Benito County.

Over the many years, Victoria has remained close to the farmworker community. She is alert to the hardships and health risks facing migrant workers and she has been an indispensable voice on the board, helping the center respond to the evolving needs of farmworker families.

Victoria has given service on the National Advisory Council for Migrant Health and, as a former teacher, has demonstrated a strong focus for strengthening programs and services for farmworker children, especially in oral health.

William Morgan, Board Member, Keystone Rural Health Center in Pennsylvania

For 22 years, Bill has served on the Keystone Rural Health Center board. Bill volunteers his time and energies for the purpose of improving the health and well-being of farmworkers. At Keystone Rural Health, Bill chairs the Agricultural Committee. He has also served on the National Advisory Council on Migrant Health. As a board member, he plays a strong role in the community—speaking out and building support for health center programs. 

A retired college professor of languages, Bill is known to be ready at all times to offer help to those at the center in need of an interpreter or translator. In his spare time, he also serves as board member and secretary of the Fruitbelt Farmworkers Christian Ministry. As part of this ministry, he serves as an interpreter for groups visiting farmworker camps with food, clothing, and devotional support. Bill’s whole life exemplifies the spirit of volunteerism and community service. And for all the patients and staff at Keystone Rural Health – he is a trusted friend and supporter.

Outstanding Public Service Award: Edward Garza, CEO of the Mexican American Council in Florida

This award recognizes the leadership of individuals who have significantly shaped public policy and programs in Migrant Health.

A proud son of migrant farmworkers, Edward has devoted his life’s work to improve the status of farmworkers in the United States. Since taking the helm at the Council in 2017, Edward has carried forth its mission: To ensure that every farmworker child is provided access to a quality education, the arts and technology for a better future. He has successfully built growing partnerships with schools, businesses, and community organizations in Southern Florida.

His work has enabled the Council to leverage resources from the community and state and provide students with stepping stones and essential supports, such as job training, internships, mentoring/counseling, and scholarships.

Edward is also credited with the success of the Family Empowerment Program that engages farmworker parents and helps them contribute to the educational success of their children from kindergarten through high school.

Lifetime Achievement Award in Migrant Health: Karen Mountain

The 2023 Lifetime Achievement Award in Migrant Health honors the leadership and humanitarian work of our longtime partner and colleague Karen Mountain.

Last year Karen ended her tenure as Executive Director of the Migrant Clinicians Network—a position she held for 35 years.

The Migrant Clinicians Network (MCN), since its founding in 1984, has become a vital support system for health centers and clinicians on the frontlines who provide care and treatment to vulnerable populations.  Among those populations are migrant agricultural workers – immigrants – and the multitude of refugees fleeing from war, disasters, and violence. 

Under Karen’s guiding hand, MCN has broadened its global reach while expanding its array of informational resources, trainings and research to help clinicians respond to the health needs of mobile populations and meet emerging public health threats.

MCN has been invaluable connecting detained pregnant women and sick children to much needed healthcare. MCN is also at the forefront of environmental studies on climate change and its impact on farmworkers and marginalized communities.