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In the Field: Environmental and Occupational Health in Puerto Rico

MCNLast week, our Environmental and Occupational Health team headed to Puerto Rico for a train-the-trainer session at Hospital General Castañer, a community health center located in the mountains in the heart of the island, where coffee, oranges, and plantains are grown.  The two-day workshop gave the local health center’s outreach staff training in chemical safety, heat stress, and workers’ rights.  The outreach staff will then train workers in these topics. 

This effort is a part of Migrant Clinicians Network’s Worker Safety and Health in Community Health Centers: A sustainable and integrative approach to immigrant safety, a project to equip health center outreach teams to facilitate health and safety training for vulnerable worker populations. In addition to the agricultural workers of central Puerto Rico, the project will also provide trainings to nail salon workers in the Houston area through a partnership with HOPE Clinic. The project is supported by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) Susan Harwood Grant program. 

“MCN is thrilled to be once again working with longtime partner Hospital General Castañer,” said Amy K. Liebman, MPA, MA, Director of Environmental and Occupational Health for MCN.  For nearly a decade, MCN has worked closely with the center’s medical director, Dr. José Rodriguez and clinical staff to improve the recognition and management of pesticide poisonings.  “Hospital General Castañer now serves as a model of excellence throughout the US for community health centers caring for workers employed in the most hazardous industry in the US -- agriculture,” said Liebman.  This new project will now enable the outreach arm of the center to also address environmental and occupational health. MCN is excited that Marysel Pagan-Santana, a DrPH candidate at the University of Puerto Rico, School of Public Health is interning at Hospital General Castañer and will help support the outreach team in their efforts. 

MCNMCN’s Environmental and Occupational Health team, led by Amy Liebman, included Kerry Brennan and Ileana Ponce-Gonzalez, MD, MPH. The team took great advantage of their time in Puerto Rico. Following their training in Castañer, the team traveled to Utuado to meet with Corporación de Servicios Médicos Primarios y Prevención. They then left the mountains for the west coast of the island to meet with Costa Salud Community Health Centers in Rincón and Migrant Health Center in Mayagüez.  MCN talked to the medical directors and staff from each of these centers about MCN’s worker and environmental health programs, and discussed the challenges each of the centers face in caring for vulnerable workers and their families. The team finished their work in San Juan with a meeting with Carmen Zorrilla, MD, MCN’s External Advisory Committee member. Dr. Zorrilla is on the frontlines of the Zika virus, providing care to pregnant women in San Juan, and she plans to initiate important research to help address this public health crisis. 

Some may be wondering why an important member of the team, Juliana Simmons, MSPH, CHES, Environmental and Occupational Health Program Manager for MCN, did not join in the team in this island venture. Her trip to Puerto Rico was canceled on account of the spread of the Zika virus, as Simmons is expecting.  Although the team missed Simmons as a partner in the training, we are all thankful she stayed safe in Maryland. 

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