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Health risks to farmworkers increase as workforce ages

Sarah Varney, Kaiser Health News on

Published in Health & Fitness

Oralia Marquez, a physician's assistant at the clinic, said older farmworkers often develop arthritis, back pain, foot infections and breathing problems from pesticides.

Many of her patients, like Amalia Buitron Deaguilera also struggle with diabetes. Deaguilera is 63. She has Medicaid for insurance, but she's losing her vision from the disease.

"When I was working in fields," said Deaguilera, "I never had time to take care of myself and my health."

Workers in the fields who have diabetes often cannot take their insulin because they have no place to refrigerate it, Marquez said. And they miss doctors' appointments during the busy harvesting seasons because many don't get paid when they don't work.

"Most of our patients want just something to relieve the pain and to continue working," she said. "Most of the time they don't ask for disability. They don't ask for days off. They say they don't have time to miss days."

Field laborers often delay health care, and that can lead to serious medical problems. Compared to older whites, older Latino farmworkers are much more likely to end up in the hospital, according to researchers at the Central Valley Health Policy Institute at California State University, Fresno.

Faced with an aging and dwindling workforce, Mission Ranches' McKinsey says farmers are trying to mechanize planting and harvesting to reduce their labor needs.

 

But machines can only do so much, McKinsey said. You can replace the human hand in a factory, perhaps. But out here, the fields are bumpy and the winds are strong and you need people to bring the plants to life.

(Kaiser Health News (KHN) is a national health policy news service. It is an editorially independent program of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.)

(c)2017 Kaiser Health News

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