Program helps South Georgia farmworkers

It’s not often that individuals think about the hard work responsible for the fruits and vegetables for our dinner tables every day. Somehow it magically appears in the produce department season after season, without fail. We don’t have to plant it, water it or pick it. It’s ready for us to take home and prepare.

We never see the thousands of migrant farmworkers who move from county to county during the peak season, providing the growers with the labor required to keep farms bountiful. These men, women and children – unlike the plants they take care of – have no roots and live from day to day wherever they are needed, and until their job is done, says Tom Himelick PA-C, MMSc, founder and director of the South Georgia Farmworker Health Project, and Emory Physician Assistant (PA) Program faculty member and director of community projects.

For most of these workers, having a family health care provider is unthinkable. The combination of poverty, lack of health insurance, language barriers, limited transportation and cultural differences creates a vacuum when it comes to health care.

The Emory Physician Assistant (PA) Program historically has focused on teaching primary health care and motivating and preparing its students to care for rural or urban populations that are medically underserved.

In June of each year, about 80 percent of senior students in the Emory PA Program join with physical therapy students, medical students, and PA/MD and PT faculty to volunteer one or two weeks of their time giving free medical care to migrant farmworkers and their families in South Georgia.

The program began in 1996 with the help of the Southwest Georgia Area Health Education Center and the Georgia Farmworker Health Program, DCH. It quickly expanded from a one-week outreach that provided care to 150 workers, to a two-week program during peak season in June.

The project not only provides health care, health education and medical screenings, but also distributes medical supplies, clothing and other items. Interpreter volunteers participate from Atlanta and the local communities. In addition, a smaller fall project occurs over a weekend in October during the late tomato harvest. Combined, the June and October projects serve 1600-1900 farmworkers each year.

The South Georgia Farmworkers Health Project has been so successful that it was recently featured as the cover story in the American Academy of Physician Assistants (AAPA) newsletter. Learn more about Emory PA Program projects. Read about Emory in the community in the Emory Community Benefits Report 2009.

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