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Shawnee Health Services Continues Helping Underprivileged Farm Workers

As harvest time is in full swing, we take a look at the people performing the hard labor of collecting the produce that ends up in lunch boxes and dinner tables

Farm work is not the easiest job.

Its long hours, extreme weather conditions and physically demanding.

There are hundreds of farm workers in southern Illinois both from this country and born outside the United States here on work visas.

Most of them work 7 days a week to keep up with the harvest.

But they don’t get the benefits that most workers do.

They don’t have sick days or vacation time, so if they get sick and can’t work, they don’t get paid.

“Part of the outreach services we do is to go where they are, work or where they live and we bring a little piece of our clinic to them.”

That’s where Karla Shetter comes in.

"Its a very comprehensive series of services for them to be able to improve their quality life."- Karla Shetter, Shawnee Health Services

She’s the director for the farm workers health program through Shawnee Health Services.

The program is federally funded and can only be used by those who work in the farm industry.

“We want to avoid for them to wait to get sick and then run to the emergency room because at the end that is going to implicate high cost for the state and for the country so we want them to know where we are and who to call the hours and everything we have lots of services for them to make it easier.”

A lot of the workers they help face multiple obstacles that keep them from taking care of their health.

Most of them lack their own transportation, so they have to find someone to take them to the doctor – someone who probably won’t be able to miss work to do so.

Then there’s the language barrier, a good portion of the workers are from other countries and many don’t speak English.

Shetter and her team do their best to make sure these workers don’t fall through the cracks.

“We provide transportation for them, if they do not speak English we can interpret for them as well, we have a team of 4 interpreters who assist them in the rooms with the doctors and the dentist or the councilor’s or the nutritionist.”

Shetter says their main focus is not being translators or providing rides to these underprivileged workers, but giving them the ability to take charge of their health.

“One of the things we focus mainly is education, we believe in education, education can actually change minds and we see some of them are not aware of the different risks of not following the necessary steps to maintain a healthy body.”

These workers also have to be aware of the conditions they’re working in and what they’re around.

“Since they are working close to pesticides and the soil and the products we also raise lots of awareness in terms of prevention to pesticides exposure, proper hand washing and the heat, the weather has been brutal so we do a lot of education prevention of heat stress and heat stroke.”  

She recalls one worker, who learned something that changed his life and his outlook on his health.

“We found this worker at one of our events with a blood sugar and he was running over 400”

A normal blood sugar range should be between 70-130 according to health experts.

“He could have had a diabetic coma, he always said oh no wonder why I’m always with a headache, my vision is getting blurry every time, I feel dizzy when I work and I was wondering why was that, I thought it was because I’m aging. So we explained to him how high blood sugar affects the body and since thanks to that screening we brought him to the clinic and now he’s taking all the medication to control his blood sugar and now he’s doing quiet well.”

That’s one of many success stories the farm workers health program has helped over the years.

“It’s a very comprehensive series of services for them to be able to improve their quality life.”

The Farm Worker Health Program does outreach 2-3 times a week and see over 250 individuals on location and service over 1500 appointments at clinic a year.