Decatur County-- It's that time of year when hundreds of Hispanic and Haitian families come to southwest Georgia to harvest our tomato and sweet corn fields. "This is hard work. And I think we're all dependent, certainly the growers are dependent on having the workers here to pick the crops that feed us all," said Tom Himelick, Director of Community Projects for Emory University's Physicians Assistant Program.
That's why every year a team of doctors and students from the P.A. program at Emory University, come to Decatur County. They partner with the Georgia Farm Workers Healthcare Program to give free health care to the workers. "We go on site to where they work or where they live and set up mobile clinics in order to see the people and offer them healthcare," said Sheila Ramer, Georgia Farm Workers Healthcare Program Director.
"The farmers allow their workers to come and have several hours here where we're essentially doing well exams for people who are mostly healthy," said Dr. Eddie Needham, Attending Physician at Emory P.A. School of Medicine.
But after hundreds of cases of food poisoning were linked to contaminated tomatoes, healthcare workers say what they're doing today, could prevent similar situations down the road. "We want to keep them healthy because if they're healthy then our vegetables that they're harvesting are going to be healthy," said Ramer.
Its also a chance to pass along some health education. The team brought 1,000 t-shirts with 10 tips, in Spanish on how to avoid heat related injuries, one of the most common things they see here. "We also teach them about dental hygiene, hand washing. When their hands are contaminated they need to wash their hands before handling vegetables," said Ramer.
The team can treat most things on site let workers return to the fields healthier, and in effect, more productive. Churches, food banks, and other organizations helped the cause by donating food and clothing to the workers and their families.