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Release: June 28, 2000

Program aids migrant, seasonal farm workers with health, education needs

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- A unique program in Iowa targets unmet health, employment and socioeconomic needs of migrant and seasonal farm workers.

Proteus Inc., a non -profit organization, has been in Iowa since 1979 and has operated migrant health programs since 1990. Proteus currently serves approximately 2,000 migrant and seasonal farmworkers and their families each year by responding to their employment, education and health care needs.

Proteus receives funding from federal, state and local sources as well as private donors. Proteus receives some services and support from Iowa's Center for Agricultural Safety and Health (I-CASH), based at the University of Iowa. The Agrisafe Network of clinics, which provides occupational health services for Iowa's farm population, also assists Proteus to augment the services provided to migrant and seasonal farmworkers.

Proteus services include: education and career training to help people move into more stable employment situations; life skills and counseling services to help families remain intact and keep children in school; and an extensive array of health services.

The Proteus program has grown considerably since it was established. Jeanne Duquette, clinical director of migrant health at Proteus, explained that there are still many workers and families with health needs that go untreated.

"Continuity of care can prove challenging because migrant farm workers are always moving. Migrant workers may be unable to afford health care or fear being reported to authorities if they visit a health care provider and give their names," Duquette said.

There are five Proteus clinic sites in the state: Sioux City, Fort Dodge, Hampton, Muscatine and Des Moines. These clinic sites are located in areas of high migrant and seasonal farmworker concentration. However, Duquette explained, the best way to reach these workers is to go out to the areas where they work. Staff members from each of the clinics are able to travel to and provide many services at the work sites of migrant farm workers.

"Clinic staff often travel to work sites for migrant workers and provide information about health and social services available to the workers, distribute government commodity foods and perform screenings for health and service needs," Duquette said.

Duquette reports that migrant and seasonal workers usually respond positively to these mobile clinic appearances at work sites, and many workers use services provided by the Proteus program.

To effectively deliver services at work sites, Proteus maintains and provides mobile clinic services, a toll-free phone number, an extensive group of referral services, relationships with growers and producers who let Proteus staff know when migrant workers will be in the area, bilingual staff members, and staff trained in occupational health, migrant worker health and social service issues.

The most common health problems among migrant and seasonal workers include tuberculosis, serious nutrition deficits (especially in women and children), parasitic infections, and lack of dental care and hygiene practices. Environmental stressors work together to put migrant worker populations at increased risk for serious health problems. Poor housing, limited sanitation facilities, inadequate diet and substandard health care also contribute to poor migrant worker health.

Occupational health issues also present problems for migrant workers. Agriculture is considered one of the most hazardous occupations in the country. Work performed by migrant workers often causes them to be exposed to pesticides and hazardous chemicals, extreme heat and dehydration, and on-the-job injuries that are frequently left untreated or undertreated.

Proteus employees are trained with a range of skills in order to help migrant workers receive improved health care and other critical services. Each clinic has at least one registered nurse and one bilingual English/Spanish speaking health aide. Proteus employees are specifically trained in employment counseling, relocation assistance for families who want to set up a permanent residence in Iowa, assessment of basic health care needs, and referral to a comprehensive set of health and social services to meet migrant needs. Successfully providing services for migrant workers also requires careful attention to cultural differences and social structure within migrant families.

For more information about the Proteus program, call (800) 372-6031 or (515) 244-5694.

Iowa's Center for Agricultural Safety and Health (I-CASH) is a consortium including the University of Iowa, Iowa State University, the Iowa Department of Public Health, and the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship. The consortium represents and helps maintain a statewide network of public and private agricultural health and safety organizations. Located on the UI Oakdale Research Campus, I-CASH's key objective is to reduce illness and injuries among Iowa's agricultural population.