Health care, sick days, schooling among issues for laborers

WILLARD Sitting on his porch, puffing on a Marlboro cigarette, Homero Trevino feels nauseated.
Cory Frolik
May 24, 2010

WILLARD

Sitting on his porch, puffing on a Marlboro cigarette, Homero Trevino feels nauseated.

He closes his eyes, waiting for the sensation to pass.

It passes, but he knows it'll return soon. It always does.

He can count on getting nauseated and dizzy three days every week.

Trevino, 50, has been waiting for a new kidney for almost 10 years.

Antibiotics he took for several years in the 1990s to fight an infection in his leg ruined his kidney.

Now he spends his days anxiously anticipating a call from a hospital in San Antonio, Texas, telling him they found a suitable organ that's ready for transplant.

"I pray to God it will come soon," Trevino said.

Until then, Trevino travels to Bucyrus three days a week during the summer months for dialysis.

During the fall and winter months, he receives dialysis from a center near his home in Texas.

The treatment makes him sick to his stomach.

Trevino used to be a crew leader for Buurma Farms in Willard. His wife and children still work for the farming operation in the packaging plant.

Because he is an American citizen, Trevino qualifies for Medicaid, the government-run health care for low-income residents that pays for his health care.

Many farm workers do not qualify, and their health suffers because they lack access to affordable medical care.

But their children often qualify for Medicaid since they were born in this country.

Citizen or not, every child is eligible for a free public education. But migrant farm workers don't stay in one town very long. They follow the harvest, meaning their children must drop out of school when the family moves.

From his front porch, located on a dusty road just a short walk from the farm offices, Trevino can see men and women doing the jobs he knows so well.

He said he'd still be out in the fields if it weren't for his illness.

But at least his bills aren't dragging him too deeply into debt.

He says he's fortunate to have Medicaid, because just one bottle of one of his six prescriptions costs $1,200. He needs refills each month.

Most migrant farm workers, however, are undocumented and aren't eligible for U.S. health care.

And few employers provide health care plans for them.

Buurma Farms hosts a regular health clinic -- put on by Community Health Services out of Fremont -- that farm workers in the area can use for basic medical care. Those without Medicaid, however, can't always afford the $30 clinic fee.

Myra Lopez, interpreter and medical clerk with the Huron County General Health District, estimates 95 percent of the migrant workers she helps are undocumented.

Overall, about 8 percent of the health department's clientele do not speak English.

Many migrant farm workers also refuse to take sick days.

They view a day spent in bed recovering as a day without pay. And treating a sickness with medicine and antibiotics costs dinero.

"If you don't have money, you don't want to make more bills for yourself, and regardless of your situation, supporting your family comes first," said Chris Cherry, director of nursing. "They say, 'Do I pay for my medication, or do I go to work?' Well, they go to work until they can't anymore."

The farm workers who do come into the clinic for treatment have many of the same medical problems found in the general population.

Truth be told, maybe there are a few more cases of back soreness and muscle pain.

Some workers claim there are consequences for taking sick days.

A Texas woman who works at a farm in Willard said members of her crew were punished by their supervisor for calling off ill.

For every day they took off, they were suspended from work for another three days.

The county health clinic needs an interpreter partly because so many migrant farm workers need help understanding the paperwork and procedural components of receiving health care.

Not all migrant workers can read and write.

In Mexico, people have to pay to go to school, which many can't afford. That means many farm workers have the equivalent of a sixth-grade education or less, Lopez said.

But that's not the case in the United States.

While the parents work in the fields in Willard, their children are learning in the classrooms.

Children can often enroll in local school districts for as long as they are in town.

For younger children, there's Teaching and Mentoring Communities, formerly the Texas Migrant Council, which is a nonprofit group nearly identical to Head Start, with schools in Willard, Plymouth and nine other locations in Ohio.

"In Ohio, we have close to 800 students," said Rene Gonzalez, spokesman for the group. "Across the U.S., we have close to 8,000."

At least one of Trevino's grandchildren attends the center in Willard.

Trevino and his family are gone now.

They packed up and hit the road in mid-October. They returned home to Texas, where his wife will work and he will continue receiving treatment.

Trevino will be back again in April.

And he'll be sitting on his porch, waiting for the day when his phone rings and hoping good news is at the other end of the line.

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