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From the Field: Workers and Health at Healthcare Network of Southwest Florida

Southwest Florida[Editor’s Note: Last month, Kerry Brennan, MCN’s Environmental and Occupational Health Program Associate, joined Amy Liebman, Director of Environmental and Occupational Health, and Dr. Ed Zuroweste, MCN’s Chief Medical Officer, for a training at Healthcare Network of Southwest Florida, in Immokalee. The group toured Immokalee and spent the rest of the day at the clinic for the first stage of the training for our program, Workers and Health: How frontline providers make a difference in the protection of migrant workers and their families. Here’s Kerry’s report from that day.]

What a great day! It’s very exciting and rejuvenating to have trips like these. At the beginning of the year, I was struggling to finish an 80-page report for this project. In those moments, you lose sight of the ‘why.’ You get lost in the busy work and forget the goal: “Why can’t I get this graph formatted? How come everytime I move it, everything on the page jumps around?!” Trips like these remind me what the ‘why’ is. I get to see it in action out ‘there’-- in the health center, in the community, on the farm, where the need is. We don’t do this work because we love writing reports, we do it for the clinicians who care, and for the workers who need it.

We started with breakfast and introductions at Healthcare Network’s Immokalee clinic. What a joy to finally meet someone in person who you’ve been working with virtually for months! Our morning meeting with Healthcare Network staff was really about getting to know the clinic operations and familiarizing them more with MCN’s work. They have some great things happening at this clinic; their partnerships with Florida State University and other universities bring innovative programs and clinicians-in-training to the health center. They have a large focus on integrated behavioral health, which was very interesting for me to learn about. One of the psychologists on staff, Dr. Rosado, told us about their Healthy Me program, in which they use a multi-stage intervention to assess readiness and address obesity in adolescents. They used focus groups to develop the messages in each stage so it would hit home with the teenagers, resulting in an excellent product.

Farm Worker WayThe other thing that was great about this day was the whole-team involvement. We had the CMO, COO, a pediatrician, a psychologist, their promotora, and their administrative assistant with us for the whole day. It was an excellent learning opportunity and really important programmatically to hear from so many sides of the clinic. It gives us a more realistic picture of their operations and ways to incorporate the Environmental and Occupational Health (EOH) program.

After the morning meeting, we got on the bus to tour Immokalee. What a treat -- especially to have their promotora, Rosa and administrative assistant, Patty along with us. Both Rosa and Patty are Immokalee locals. Rosa was a migrant agricultural worker for years. She migrated along the East Coast from Florida up to the Eastern Shore of Virginia picking tomatoes. She lived at the Westover Labor Camp near Salisbury and she delivered her baby at the hospital that’s just five minutes from our Salisbury office! Patty organized the whole day and tour of Immokalee. We ate at her Uncle’s Mexican restaurant, Mi Ranchito, for lunch. ¡Que rico!

Farmworker VillageWe got to see a beautiful farmworker village with 600 units, only half of which are occupied because they require documentation status to rent. Patty and Rosa had both previously lived in the neighborhood so it was really fun to hear them reminisce as we drove through. They showed us Redlands Christian Migrant Association (RCMA) child care sites throughout the farmworker village as well as RCMA’s headquarters in Immokalee. We also drove through the Seminole reservation and some Haitian neighborhoods to gain a better understanding of the diversity and dynamics in the community. They told us about the Naples Winter Wine Festival, which raises millions of dollars for the Naples Children & Education Foundation (NCEF). At first, NCEF invested largely in infrastructure in Collier County, but since have worked to make their charity go further by funding programs that improve the health and education of children and families in Collier County (i.e. the mental health grant that Rosa is working on).

We also made a stop at Coalition of Immokalee Farmworkers. Julia Perkins sat down with us and told us about all of their strategies to get where they are now. Hunger strikes and so many other tactics didn’t work, so they regrouped and asked themselves, “who holds the power?” The answer: the corporations. That sparked the penny-per-pound increase in price idea, which is the foundation of their Fair Food Program, which has resulted in some $15 million in additional wages for agricultural workers. So inspiring!


That afternoon, Ed and Amy presented the introductory EOH training for 37 clinicians in Immokalee and an additional seven clinicians who joined via teleconferencing in Naples. The training presents cases, data, and policies that get clinicians to think about how their patients’ jobs affect their health. It was a really successful training; a lot of people stayed afterward to ask for more information and resources from MCN.


We’re really excited to set up this partnership with Healthcare Network. This is a clinic that’s moving in the right direction and is dedicated to its mission and growth. We’re grateful to be a part of their forward momentum. ¡Adelante!