An on-farm health clinic program for temporary foreign workers will treat hundreds more workers, thanks to new provincial funding and the success of the program for two local farms.
Sherri Saunders, executive director for the Chatham-Kent Community Health Centre (CKCHC), said nearly $330,000 in new, permanent annual funding will allow the program to expand to new farms, giving more workers the opportunity to seek convenient treatment.
“Migrant workers [are] vital in our community to our farming and agricultural efforts and they come because it’s providing them livelihood for them and their family back home,” Saunders said. “Access to health care when they’re available in the evenings and weekends — often primary care offices are closed and then they have to rely on emergency departments, which isn’t the right resource to support them for their primary care needs.”
Saunders said temporary foreign workers can face issues accessing health care that might include delays getting their Ontario health cards, language barriers and a reluctance to leave farms during work hours. Typical health issues can include skin irritations, aches and pain — especially repetitive strain injuries and back pain — pulled muscles and earaches.
The program has already done outreach at Truly Green Farms, a tomato greenhouse in Chatham, since 2018, and at Green Hill Produce since 2020.
Windsor Morning7:53Migrant Health
At Truly Green Farms, the evening clinic runs once a month and sees seven patients per month. While those spots are highly sought-after, the partnership with the CKCHC also means workers can be quickly seen at the clinic in between visits to the farm for non-emergencies if needed, a representative from the farm said.
“It give the opportunity to our temporary foreign workers to have a doctor to go to with any concerns and instead of going to [the emergency room] and they come in once a month to assess anything,” said Jennifer Vanesse, office administrator at Truly Green Farms in Chatham.
Vanesse said they have about 200 temporary foreign workers at Truly Green and estimated as many as 75 per cent have utilized the farm health program. The clinic has a dedicated space on the farm, and the program team brings in their medical supplies.
With the new funding, the CKCHC will put together a team including a nurse practitioner, registered practical nurse and health promoter. They’ll provide care on the 17 farms that expressed interest in the program when CHC first applied and started making the business case for additional funding more than two years ago.
This new funding means they can see more than 880 new patients, Saunders said — which will meet about half the need in the community, and their full-time team will try to serve as many workers as possible, hoping they can continue to show results keeping people out of emergency rooms for primary care needs.
Vanesse said the program is popular with workers because it makes care accessible where and how they need it. Staff are available for follow-up care, and workers don’t have to face lengthy waits in emergency rooms, she noted.
“I know there are some concerns with language barriers and stuff but they do have an on site, like an on computer translator,” Vanesse said. “And then I think just the rapport with the employees as well: knowing there is someone there that does care about them and wants to make sure that their health and well-being is taken care of.”