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Group grants $50m to farmworkers

By John Ellis

The Fresno Bee, March 23, 2001

The California Endowment, the state's largest health foundation, announced Thursday it will pledge $50 million over the next five years to improve the health of California's farmworkers.

Gov. Davis hailed the grant at a rally Thursday morning for Mexican President Vicente Fox at Fresno's downtown Exhibit Hall: "It will go a long way toward ensuring that farmworkers get the health services they deserve." Fox expressed "sincere appreciation and gratitude to the California Endowment for its $50 million commitment."

The money could be used for health-care needs -- building a health clinic, augmenting current clinics and setting up traveling clinics in towns where high numbers of farmworkers live.

"Those are very appropriate examples of how we would invest the resources," said Dr. Robert K. Ross, president and CEO of the endowment.

He said the endowment has a dual strategy. First, it wants to immediately expand the capacity to delivery services, which could be something like a mobile clinic. A longer-range, and more ambitious, strategy involves efforts such as cross-border financial health insurance coverage, which is "not easy to create," Ross said. "It is a fascinating way of trying to address health needs for people that lead a bi-national existence."

The endowment also will be looking for ways to create models of public health departments that can communicate across the border to help with the health needs of individuals whose lives are split between two nations. "One thing we found through the survey we did of farmworkers was that many farmworkers come from certain sending villages," Ross said.

"They send a significant number who work in groups in certain parts of the Central Valley." Providing help for these people requires careful cross-border communication between health departments and health providers, Ross said.

"We felt morally compelled to act," Ross said of the monetary commitment. He said the California Endowment was buoyed by the cooperation pledged between President Fox and Gov. Davis.

"I think it is tremendous for the endowment to be able to participate in this," said Assembly Member Sarah Reyes, D-Fresno. Ross said the commitment stemmed from recommendations of the foundation's Agricultural Workers Health Task Force, which was formed four months ago in response to "Suffering in Silence: A Report on the Health of California's Agricultural Workers."

The report found that farmworkers suffer from poor nutrition and have high blood pressure, and about one-third of male workers have never been to a doctor.

Seventy percent of the nearly 1,000 California farmworkers participating in the survey did not have health insurance and almost half had never seen a dentist.

"This is a worthy endeavor," said Assembly Member Dean Florez, D-Shafter, "and it needs to be commended."


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