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Migrant Farmworkers Receive Free Treatment From A Boynton Beach Medical Clinic

Migrant communities driving through the car loop at the Caridad Center in Boynton Beach
Caridad Center
Migrant communities driving through the car loop at the Caridad Center in Boynton Beach

The cars wrap around the corner. And the staff approach each one with a white board, empathy and understanding.

The Caridad Center in Boynton Beach is a free medical clinic that treats the migrant farmworkers who harvest produce from the fields of Palm Beach County.

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Doctors at the clinic volunteer their time. The clinic says the county’s migrant farmworkers have tested positive for COVID-19 at a higher rate than the rest of the county.

Laura Kallus is the Caridad Center’s CEO. She says they’ve been using a car loop to monitor COVID-positive patients and to distribute supplies to workers.

Migrants who test positive live below the poverty line can’t afford to not work the fields, she says. They also face similar coronavirus exposure at home.

"Even though they may be asymptomatic, we try to stress the importance of staying home and isolating,” Kallus said. “If they're living three or four families deep in a trailer or apartment, it's just almost impossible for them to socially isolate. So we're looking at the whole household becoming infected.”

Volunteer doctors at the clinic say 68% of positive cases were people who did not experience symptoms.

Outside of positive COVID-19 cases, workers and their families drive through the car loop for other medical, dental, social, and community outreach services.

“They would come through the car loop for their medications and then we would see them in line at the soup kitchen next door. And so so in order to keep them from getting in line at the soup kitchen, being positive, we began to distribute the food right there in bags to them in the car loop,” Kallus said.

Diapers for children. Bottles. The car loop “became a huge, full-service” drive-thru.

“But of course, that's when we realized when they're positive, they just need to stay home. And so we started to go to them,” Kallus said.

The center monitors COVID-positive patients every day and provides rent, medical, and food assistance directly to their homes. The center is in contact with positive patients every day.

The Guatemalan-Maya Center in Lake Worth Beach says it saw a 30% infection rate among agriculture workers and their families, that they regularly tested for COVID-19. Thefarmworker communityin Palm Beach County sent a letter to Gov. Ron DeSantis, demanding COVID-19 vaccine prioritization for agricultural workers.

The Guatemalan-Maya Center, who signed the letter, says it saw a 30% infection rate among 600 agricultural workers and families that would regularly test for COVID-19. The center says it was “partly due to unequal access to healthcare.”

"So just poverty, you know, when you think of poverty, I mean, that's it. That's the greatest risk factor for COVID-19, right there, is poverty."
Laura Kallus, Caridad Center CEO

Kallus said families who live in multigenerational households, sharing close quarters with children, parents, and other extended families, also pose a health challenge. The Caridad Center, which has partnered with the Guatemalan-Maya Center for over 25 years, conducts at-home health screenings and often finds "crowded conditions, sometimes mold, sometimes inoperable refrigerators and toilets.”

"So just poverty, you know, when you think of poverty, I mean, that's it. That's the greatest risk factor for COVID-19, right there, is poverty," Kallus said. "Always our population tested higher than the county. Sometimes 10 percent.”

And despite the numbers, Guatemalan families in the Lake Worth Beach area, people from Central America sprawled across the county, and people from the Caribbean, were still working in the fields in the Glades and in surrounding areas of western Palm Beach County. Kallus said many have shifted into different day labor jobs like construction, landscaping, nurseries, and jobs within the equestrian community.

"So a lot of those equestrian workers live and work in those training facilities for the race horses and are in very crowded conditions there, too," Kallus said.

The center conducted a survey of migrant workers about the COVID-19 vaccine with the University of Miami, Kallus said. They are still waiting for the results but, she says, analysis has shown that migrant workers are a bit apprehensive about receiving the shots.

"There is some hesitation. On behalf of the community, on safety, and so our community health workers are preparing some education on the vaccine and vaccine safety for them and the importance of it," Kallus said.

The center's priority, at the moment, is to vaccinate their retired doctors at the clinic who’ve volunteered their service for the communities, some of whom have underlying health conditions.

"We've been operating on a skeleton crew since March and many of the doctors want to come back," Kallus said.

And when they return, she says the center is planning a community outreach program to educate the migrant community about the vaccines.

"That will be my next huge advocacy mission is to get vaccines available for these essential workers,” she said.

Wilkine Brutus is the Palm Beach County Reporter for WLRN. The award-winning journalist produces stories on topics surrounding local news, culture, art, politics and current affairs. Contact Wilkine at wbrutus@wlrnnews.org
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