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When the Fires Broke Out, CHWs in Oregon Took a Different Approach

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Toña Sanchez visits with migrant kids

Lead Community Health Worker Toña Sanchez visits with migrant kids. Photo: The Next Door, Inc.


When wildfires hit Oregon earlier this year, farmworkers suffered. Despite official recommendations to stay indoors, harvest season continued -- and many workers could not afford to skip work. Respiration-related concerns drove up admissions to hospitals around the Columbia Gorge region. Many areas were evacuated as the fires drew closer.

Toña Sanchez and Joel Pelayo, two experienced promotores de salud with The Next Door, Inc., had planned a series of educational offerings on heat and dehydration. Their work was supported by Migrant Clinicians Network’s Worker Safety and Health in Community Health Centers: A sustainable and integrative approach to immigrant safety and health, a project supported by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) Susan Harwood Grant program. Worker Safety and Health fosters a sustained approach to occupational health and safety within community health centers through a train-the-trainer program focusing on outreach and community health workers (CHWs). Pelayo and Sanchez, The Next Door, Inc.’s CHWs to implement the program, were to bring the worker safety and heat stress trainings to 500 limited English proficient, non- or low- literate, minority orchard workers in the Columbia River Gorge.


Joel Pelayo giving water cooler to migrant worker

Lead Community Health Worker Joel Pelayo giving water cooler to migrant worker. Photo: The Next Door, Inc.

But the smoke hampered their efforts. All outreach work in the orchards was delayed, and Sanchez and Pelayo had to get creative. Luckily, the CHW duo brings combined decades of outreach work to the table. The Next Door, Inc. says Pelayo is highly regarded in the community, and “instills a sense of empowerment, peace, and compassion with co-workers and community members.” Sanchez is a well-known and well-respected CHW who received the American Public Health Association’s Outstanding CHW of the Year award last year. The two didn’t back down -- they changed tacks.

Although the harvest season had mostly concluded and their original locations for training were vacated, the two began visiting local packing houses, presenting whenever they could, even during the night shift breaks, to provide these critical health and safety trainings to as many workers as possible. Despite the interruption, the dedicated Community Health Workers managed to get the messages out, providing these critical two-hour trainings to over 500 workers.

Our gratitude goes out to Sanchez and Pelayo, two hardworking CHWs who put in the extra effort to assure workers get the trainings they need.


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