Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Orange County Health Department

Geraldean Matthews was originally the one in charge of the Pace grant that Michelle is taking over for the Orange County Health Department, but apparently Geraldean's health has not been good these days. As Nolan points out, it's interesting that Michelle's job is concerned with inspections-- inspecting the sanitary conditions of public pools and food sites (say, where a day camp feeds kids). It sounds like Apopka was tacked on to her existing job duties-- yet another example of how people already overworked and doing multiple other projects have to work on Apopka as a side project. Orange County also seems very interested in the Parks & Recreation aspect of Apopka-- no green space-- but Jeannie pushed for the healthcare agenda, and Michelle seemed to be listening. We've got another meeting next week with some "key players" in Apopka and in OCHD to discuss this-- it's exciting that Jeannie has been able to bring us to the table with these issues.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Meeting with the Orange County Health Department

Last Thursday we met Jeannie at the Orange County Health Department office to meet with officials and discuss the problem in Apopka. We arrived earlier than Jeannie, which allowed us time for noting ethnographic details. Department of Health is located in a building adjacent to the EPA office, and is accessible only after driving through the EPA parking lot. The two parking lots are divided by a tall chain-link fence, featuring a gate that allows for one narrow entrance and exit to the OCHD parking lot. The limited access, tall chain-link fence, and dismal low-stature building contributed to an aura reminiscent of a rundown dentition center. It was also alarmingly ironic that the offices lacked landscaping, but instead featured palm trees sprinkled throughout small patches of grass preserved among the vast paved parking lot.

Shortly after entering the building, a diesel truck parked outside the office. This was a standard size Ford truck, but I could tell by the sound of the engine it ran on diesel fuel, and upon deducing this I realized the man had left his truck running while waiting inside. Rachel and I were both disgusted—here we were in the Health Department office, next to the Environmental Protection Agency office, while one man simultaneously wasted natural resources, money, polluted the environment, and endangered the health of others. We pointed out this inconsiderate wastefulness to Jeannie when she arrived.

Once Jeannie arrived our meeting began. We met with Michelle, an environmental specialist, and Nina, a Masters Degree student working in the office. Michelle, though generally lowkey, seemed extremely interested in the project. She was not aware of the conditions in Apopka, and from her job description had very little extra time to learn about community issues. Michelle and Nina are both inspectors, but have been assigned to the Apopka case in addition to their regular duties; as with the Farmworkers Association, it seems there are few staff members, and a multitude of concerns worth addressing, causing the few involved people to become overextended in their efforts. After meeting for nearly two hours, we decided to set up meeting to take a “toxic tour” of Apopka, driving around all of the pollution sites, and setting up a community meeting to discuss healthcare endeavors. We look forward to the tour this Wednesday.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Initial Contact

This past week we have made some very exciting initial contacts. We spoke to a person from TAP-IN, the organization that matches retired hospital staff with free clinics, and even though the organization is not yet in Florida, they hope to enter the state in 2009. We spoke to Dr. Bill Staub, who was able to give us a lead on an organization that constructs and organizes free clinics called the Volunteers in Medicine Institute.

I also made contact with a woman from Orange Regional Medical Center, one of the largest hospital networks in Central Florida. I spoke with a woman named Geeta, who was very nice but very unaware of the health problems the former farmworkers faced, and was quick to dismiss the urgency of this problem. She assumed the clinic in Apopka was sufficient both in treatment and price regulation, and felt Florida Hospital had several branches in Apopka. After explaining more, she became slightly less dismissive, and asked me to send her more information. She also explained ORMC is not for profit hospital, making it a healthcare system willing to reach out to communities, however, getting their assistance is very competitive as many communities plead their cases for help. Geeta was also confused by how a collaborative project between ORMC, Rollins College, and The Farmworkers Association of Apopka may work. I will have to find examples of such models to send to her.

Overall we are making great first steps towards progress. I hope one of our contacts leads us somewhere!

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Pondering Non-Profits and Organizing the Next Step

During our last meeting with Jeannie we listened in on conference call with representatives from other non-profit organizations. The phone call lasted over an hour, and it became evident to me why some organizations may have difficult making progress or getting organized. Many of the people on the telephone were reluctant to make decisions or offer advice, they insisted on clearing these actions with organization leaders. I found this to be a rather curious scenario: many non-profits revolve around helping the powerless, yet it seemed employees of the organizations were unsure of their own power or uncomfortable making decisions. I also began to wonder of the effectiveness of a non-profit if a large hierarchy exists; then again structure is always necessary for any organization to run efficiently.

After the telephone call Jeannie suggested we begin contacting local hospitals and finding information about options for bringing specialists to the Apopka community. General medical care already exists in the community (though it could certainly use great improvement). Although a clinic is located in Apopka, it does not offer the specialist attention desperately needed. General practitioners and their facilities are not equipped to deal with lupus, cancer, severe skin disorders, and the various other medical concerns of the Apopka farmworkers.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Prevention of Occupational Health Hazards in Other Regions

As we wait to hear back from officials at Tap-IN and CARE, we have continued to research similar projects to find inspiration for a solution. An anthropologist named Thomas Arcury has done a lot of work surrounding Latino and African American Farmworkers. He has written several articles about his work, which focuses a great deal around North Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, Mississippi, and the Midwest. In one of his articles, Arcury addresses preventive measures African American farmworkers take to avoid injuries while on the job. Interestingly, Arcury writes that many workers already have preventative knowledge, information that was noticeably absent to Apopka farmworkers. In regards to chemical use, one informant tells Arcury about protective clothing the workers wear. “They wear the gloves, the cap, and they put on the coveralls. And then they go on and after they spray the tobacco, well then I think it’s three days you don’t go in it under three days. You know, you have to stay out of it, out of the crop” (1997, 171). This scenario is drastically different from the Apopka farmworkers who worked in fields recently sprayed with pesticides, attributing to their multiple skin problems. Apopka farmworkers were so unaware of the hazards of their work that they often used old drums once containing pesticides as converted grills to cook food. This discrepancy of information also raises a great deal of questions, such as why was this information not reaching Apopka farmworkers? Who is responsible for insuring farmworker safety: the individual worker, the farm, or a government agency?

The Farmworkers Association of Florida had managed programs about occupational hazards associated with being a farmworker, but were those programs well received? Arcury makes note of some workers who avoided necessary precautions when using machinery because of resistance to change or not wanting to spend extra money to make the equipment safer (1997, 170.). As we learn more about the situation in Apopka it becomes increasingly clear how this population has been forgotten and left behind in various ways.