The plight of the migrant farmworker in Apopka is a constant uphill climb.
Most of this underserved community live in poverty. Some live in households with multiple generations of family members. Most do not have cars and rely on public transportation or rides from friends to go to work or just get through the day-to-day chores of life. Many of them live their lives in the shadows of society, going from job-to-job.
And while Hurricane Irma devastated many regions of Florida, for the migrant farmworker, its effects were profound.
"You hear about the damage to the farms. You don't ever hear about the impact to farm workers," said Jeannie Economos, the pesticide safety and environmental health project coordinator with the Farmworker Association of Florida.
If there are issues at their workplace, migrant farmworkers are unlikely to complain or report them. They will often work through sickness, illness or disease rather than seek adequate healthcare.
However Dr. Heather Peralta and her nursing students at the UCF College of Community Nursing Coalition saw this need among the Apopka farmworkers and took action.
Students and faculty from the UCF Colleges of Medicine, Nursing, Physical Therapy, Social Workers as well as the University of Florida College of Pharmacy provided an outreach clinic at the Farmworkers Association Building in Apopka. They provided care in internal medicine, dermatology, ophthalmology, ob/gyn, occupational health, pediatrics, social work and physical therapy. The students and faculty worked on interdisciplinary teams to make sure all the patients were seen and their questions answered. Students worked to check patients in, to provide education, triage, and then in each of their specialty areas.
Currently, the clinic runs about once every three months. This is the sixth time they have served the Apopka farmworking community.
On Monday, the clinic served its largest number of patients - 110. Typically, they see between 70 and 80, and they accept any patient who seeks their care-- which is approximately 75% adults and 25% children.
"Just by the number of people that come here proves its vital," said Economos. This is completely free. They can be seen by multiple doctors at one sitting. It's vitally important to the people in this community, and these students really care for and embrace their patients."
Mary, an Apopka resident who did not want to be identified except by her first name, was in agreement with Economos on the clinic's importance.
"I am grateful to the clinic and its volunteers," she said. "As an immigrant, I don't have health insurance. And as a single mom that works as a housekeeper, I don't have the time or the money to make medical appointments for me or my children. This clinic has been a miracle for my family."
According to Peralta, there were 92 student volunteers and 13 faculty participants.
Earlier in the year, the UCF College of Community Nursing Coalition (the Apopka Farmworkers Free Clinic) won the Public Health Excellence in Interprofessional Education Collaboration Award. For details, go here.
“We have created a real bond with the people in Apopka,” said Peralta. "As a nurse, you have a responsibility to serve the community. Sometimes that means you get a family calling you to ask about a rash, other times it's helping your neighbor who has multiple medications to understand. At UCF, we give the students the ability to go beyond this and really fill a need within their assigned community.”
Volunteers from the Farmworkers Association were also on hand to help with coordination, parking and translation.
“It was a beautiful thing to watch all of these students work together seamlessly to serve, understanding that they were filling a great need in Apopka," said Peralta. "We know there is still more need, but we continue to strive to serve our community and really are working hard to make this clinic sustainable for Apopka."
Photos courtesy of Genesis Martinez.