Maribel Renteria is Clinic Manager at NHC’s Canby clinic.
Giving the gift of health to migrant and seasonal farmworkers
Maribel Renteria is Clinic Manager at NHC’s Canby clinic where she oversees day-to-day operations. Many of the patients her team sees are uninsured or on Oregon Health Plan (OHP); a portion of these patients are migrant farmworkers — a community that has been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19.
Maribel has helped lead a number of COVID-19 vaccine outreach efforts to migrant workers in the Canby area. Since April, she and her team vaccinated more than 200 migrant workers at volunteer outreach events coordinated by Clackamas County.
At each event Maribel was joined by an NHC physician and bilingual medical assistants. A native Spanish speaker herself, Maribel provides support to patients and assists with translation.
The team loads their personal vehicles with supplies — hand sanitizer, masks, clinic brochures and information about how to access resources or get assistance paying bills or paying rent — and heads out to the fields.
Outreach to migrant farmworkers isn’t a formal part of her job, but it is deeply personal for Maribel:
“I am Hispanic. I’m Mexican. I grew up in Central California. My parents have worked out in the fields and farms.”
Maribel began working alongside her family when she was just 15 years old. Her parents couldn’t always afford the clothes and shoes she wanted so she worked for it. “I’ve had the chance to work with [this community]. Hear them out. Through these conversations I’ve learned how difficult it is to get health care, how hard it is to get paid.”
We hear you. We see you.
Establishing trust is an essential part of this work. For Maribel and her team, this can mean small gestures like giving out their personal names and taking the time to listen.
After initially hesitating, a worker might disclose a health concern like a cut that needs medical attention. Maribel and her team would provide a brochure with contact information and encourage the worker to call the Canby clinic and ask for Maribel or her team members by name.
“We talk with them, hear them out…” she says. “We want them to know ‘We’re here for you. We see you.’”
Maribel says the overwhelming response has been one of gratitude and relief.
For those with misgivings, Maribel and her team do what they can to address questions and put community members at ease. Sometimes it means helping a patient overcome a fear of needles. Other times it’s debunking myths about the COVID-19 vaccine itself. For many farmworkers, worries about immigration status loom large: “Some migrant workers see this as government help and there’s a worry that accepting it will negatively affect their immigration status.”
At one of recent events, a worker declined the vaccine over fears about potential side effects. She’d heard that her arm could be sore for a few days* and said she couldn’t afford to miss a day of work.
While rampant misinformation is indeed a barrier for many residents, the workers attending these outreach events have elected to be there – often traveling from nearby farms to get vaccinated. “Generally speaking, if they are there, they’ve chosen to get it.”
Mobile Health Outreach
NHC’s new mobile medical van — made possible by a grant from Oregon Health Authority (OHA) — will allow NHC to reach more migrant workers with more health care services — and extend NHC’s outreach to a wider geographic area.
And the need is great. According to OHA, an estimated 174,000 migrant and seasonal farmworkers, and related family members, support Oregon’s multi-billion dollar agricultural industry.
If there’s one message Maribel would like to convey to those who may be hesitant to attend a vaccine event or seek out medical care, it’s this:
“We’re here to help you. We’re here to bring you and your family the support you need. Use this help. It’s there for you.”
*Some vaccine recipients experience pain at the injection site. Learn more about Covid-19 vaccines.