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Program to provide farmworkers health care

Double-decker bus will help send services right outside their workplace

Author: Olivia Wynkoop Bay City News Foundation

Published: July 22, 2022

Daily Journal file photo

Farmworkers in San Mateo County will soon be able to access health care resources via double-decker bus, thanks to a new program launched by local advocate groups and backed by major life science companies like Genentech.

Launching in September, the Farmworker Equity Express will be equipped with computers and internet to help farmworkers connect virtually with health care providers, mental health resources, online tutoring and adult classes in community college programs.

Belinda Hernandez-Arriaga, executive director of Latino advocacy group Ayudando Latinos a Soñar, said her and her team saw firsthand how the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated the obstacles farmworkers already faced in trying to obtain basic resources.

“There’s a medical clinic here in the community, but [farmworkers] are such hard workers that many of them won’t take the time to go, or have a hard time with transportation, or do not want to miss work with the concern of job loss,” Hernandez-Arriaga said in an interview. “The privilege of how others have medical care is not the same in many ways for farmworkers.”

The community’s access to mental health care is an especially overlooked challenge, ALAS farmworker program and outreach director Joaquin Jimenez said.

“Bringing mental health to the forums has always been a goal to do,” Jimenez said. “Two clinicians from ALAS visit the farms during the week and do activities and counseling, but farmworkers also come to our office. This bus will provide a conference room for clinicians to meet with farmworkers and their families, and it also has two soundproof areas for mental health via telehealth.”

The organization pitched the idea of a resources-on-wheels program to Life Science Cares Bay Area, a coalition of life science companies seeking to give back to the community, and together they secured funding to make it happen.

The Gilead Foundation was a major donor, and AbbVie Inc. also pitched in. Biotechnology company Genentech donated their time and expertise to design a double-decker bus that’s suitable for the project, similar to the buses they operate for their daily commuters.

Now, instead of having to take time off work to go to the doctor’s office, or avoiding care altogether due to a lack of insurance, farmworkers can visit a bus parked right outside their workplace.

ALAS already works with some 20 farms in the county to provide services to farmworkers, and the organization hopes to map out a weekly schedule of where the bus will be and when as they approach September.

“The Farmworker Equity Express bus is the result of the power of nonprofits and biotech companies coming together and turning ideas into reality,” Hernandez-Arriaga said.

It cost roughly $250,000 to purchase the bus and retrofit it into a resource hub, and now the organization is seeking out more donors to keep the project sustainable and long-term. Hernandez-Arriaga calls on other life science companies in Silicon Valley to support the project and be an example of what corporate-nonprofit partnerships can look like.

“We’ve been hearing all over how impactful this can be for others — for other communities and for across the country. This can be a game changer for the other farmworker communities, so we hope to continue to build that source of funding for this,” Hernandez-Arriaga said.

ALAS will also host community information sessions to provide more information on the Equity Express Farm Bus on Aug. 10, 17, 24 and 31 from 5-7 p.m. at the Half Moon Bay Library’s community room, located at 620 Correas St.

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