Column: Keeping ag workers, families healthy ensures continuation of food supply

This growing season, agriculture employers and workers are facing additional challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Employers are having to consider how they can keep workers safe and healthy to slow the spread of the virus in Wisconsin communities while, at the same time, ensuring the continuation and safety of the nation’s food supply. Workers are traveling from other parts of the state, country, and world to assist with the maintenance of our food system with differing information on how to keep themselves, their fellow workers, their employers, and their families protected. Language barriers and limited access to care and other services only further exacerbate these issues.

Family Health La Clinica Community Health Center based in Wautoma, has been serving migrant and seasonal agriculture workers for decades and is the only migrant health center in the state of Wisconsin. They have a reputation for providing needed medical care to this and other vulnerable populations in the state and addressing health disparities by ensuring equitable access to care. This is no different considering the new challenges presented because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

To help with the additional needs associated with the virus, FHLC was awarded a grant by the Advancing a Healthier Wisconsin endowment through the Medical College of Wisconsin and has also partnered with the State Emergency Operations Center, the Wisconsin National Guard, and a number of additional stakeholders around the state.

This has allowed for the development of a new and multi-faceted program targeted to meet the needs of Wisconsin’s agriculture employers and workers during this time. This program is focused on technical assistance via comprehensive housing and worksite assessments, COVID-19 testing, and prevention education. There is no charge for these services to the worker or employer.

To get the word out about these important services, FHLC has relied on robust partnerships with stakeholders around the state. A steering committee has been formed amongst Wisconsin Farmworker Coalition partners to gather, discuss, and disseminate important information regarding this project. An employer needs assessment survey was developed and deployed to establish initial contact with new and existing agriculture partners, and a new employer and worker-facing webpage were established to help provide important educational and community resources. The website also contains a form where employers can submit a request for assistance.

Although the agriculture season in Wisconsin has just begun, FHLC has already completed six site assessments and has provided education and testing at ten locations with many more scheduled. To date, 180 workers have received education on COVID-19 and 126 workers have been tested. As additional migrant and seasonal agricultural workers report to their employers throughout the growing, harvesting, and processing season, FHLC will continue to deploy these services where they are needed. With the cooperation of agriculture employers and workers statewide, FHLC and its partners will ensure a safe and healthy agriculture workforce and food supply.

For more information, to access these resources, or to submit a request for assistance, visit famhealth.com/wi-msaw-covid-19 or call the MSAW COVID Clinical & Outreach Line at (920) 787-9450.

Zina Soltis is the Community Engagement & Outreach Coordinator for Family Health La Clinica Community Health Center.