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Release: May 2, 2000

AgriSafe clinic network provides occupational health care for farmers

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- A unique program based at the University of Iowa provides Iowa farm families with the "tools" they need to reduce injury risks and work safely on the farm.

The Iowa Agricultural Health and Safety (AgriSafe) Network of agricultural occupational health clinics serves Iowa farmers throughout the state. Its mission is to provide accessible and affordable health and safety resources for farmers and their families. The network currently has six regional clinics -- located in Sioux Center, Harlan, Spencer, Oskaloosa, Farmington, and Dubuque -- and 15 affiliated clinics.

Iowa's Center for Agricultural Safety and Health (I-CASH) developed the concept and helps maintain the AgriSafe clinic network. I-CASH's ultimate goal is for each farmer in Iowa to live within 50 miles of an AgriSafe clinic. The clinic network was begun in 1987 after Kelley Donham, D.V.M., professor of occupational and environmental health at the UI College of Public Health and director of I-CASH, visited and observed a clinic network set up to serve agricultural workers in Sweden.

Since the program's inception, "there has been a steady increase in the number of farmers coming in and asking for various types of safety equipment and general health and safety information," said Carolyn Sheridan, AgriSafe clinic director. "People want educational opportunities like those provided through the clinics, and there has been a corresponding increase in the public perception and awareness of the AgriSafe clinic program throughout the state."

Farmers visiting the clinics have the option to receive a set of comprehensive occupational health services or receive specific services on a "fee for service" basis. These services are tailored for each individual farmer so that his or her unique health and safety needs are met. Clinic services are designed to target high-risk areas of health and safety for agricultural workers.

"Farmers come into the clinic with a wide range of needs and issues. Sometimes it requires careful listening and input from other family members to develop a complete and accurate picture of a farmer's health and safety needs," Sheridan said.

The first component of health services provided through the clinic is a visit by the farmer for an in-depth occupational health screening and a series of health tests. The tests performed include pulmonary function, cholinesterase, cholesterol, blood pressure, hearing, vision, height, weight and skin cancer screening. The initial series of tests is used to establish a baseline for the farmer's overall health and to monitor any significant changes in the farmer's health over time. The results of these tests are also used to help determine what kind of safety equipment would be most useful to the farmer and what areas of his health are at the highest risk.

On-site farm visits and evaluations of farmers' working environments make up the second component of clinic services, although some of the clinics do not yet offer on-site services. Environmental evaluations are performed in order to make recommendations for health and safety practices that are specifically tailored to a farmer's working area. The evaluations also help the farmer and clinic personnel recommend and select the most effective and proper protective gear to be worn in the course of the farmer's working day.

Education is the third major part of AgriSafe clinic services. Educational and outreach efforts include the entire family so that family members exposed to the various work conditions may also practice safe and healthy work habits. Teaching safety habits to children and young farm workers helps them develop safe farming and injury prevention practices that they will use throughout their working life, Sheridan explained. AgriSafe clinic staff visit county fairs, agribusiness meetings and other places farmers gather and do business so that they are accessible and may provide information to those individuals who would benefit most from clinic services.

Staying informed about the farm economy and agriculture is also important for clinic staff so that they understand how to best provide care to farmers. Current economic conditions have led to increased stress and mental fatigue for some farmers and their families, Sheridan said. Because many farmers work a second job away from the farm, they are often subjected to twice as many industrial exposures.

The care and information available to farmers through the clinic is not designed to replace a primary care physician. AgriSafe services complement the care and expand the available information of a primary care provider. There are risks and hazards unique to farm work, and health care providers need to have training and background in agricultural health issues in order to properly diagnose and treat the ailments that farmers or their family members may have. Working closely with the AgriSafe clinic staff, primary care physicians are able to provide better care to their patients who farm. I-CASH provides training for health care professionals in the area of agricultural occupational health so that they more readily treat farmers' injuries and health needs.

For more information on the AgriSafe network of clinics, call I-CASH at (319)-335-4438.

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.