A new mobile clinic will help provide seasonal agricultural workers in Niagara-on-the-Lake with better access to health care, says the leader of the organization that will operate the service.
Nancy Garner is the executive director of Quest Community Health Centre in St. Catharines, which has taken possession of a custom van outfitted with all of the furnishings of a medical exam room.
The $200,000 van, outfitted by MoveMobility of Mississauga, contains items such as an exam table, a vaccine refrigerator, storage for supplies and more.
“It’s all ready to go. We are just in the process of gathering supplies to stock the shelves,” Garner said.
Quest worked with other community health centres in southwest Ontario, looking for ways it could improve access to health-care services for seasonal workers.
“I think COVID really shone a light on the need of workers and as a result, we worked really closely together to put proposals together to the minister of health to fund increased services,” Garner said.
Quest researched what barriers farm workers faced in accessing health care, charting the location of bunkhouses for seasonal workers in the agency’s catchment area of north Niagara and then looked at what services were within at 10- to 15-minute bike ride.
Gaps were discovered, Garner said.
“We saw a huge area of the region where workers had a barrier to access our health-care services, so that’s when we put in this proposal for a mobile health clinic,” she said.
The new clinic on wheels will allow Quest to go to workers rather than forcing them to make their way to a doctor’s office or walk-in clinic.
Site visits were already happening but with the new van, that service can be improved, allowing workers privacy, said Jesslyn Froese, a registered nurse with Quest.
“We’re able to have a quiet space for (measuring) blood pressure, a confidential space for something like a pap (test). It helps in many ways so that it helps create more accessible and efficient health care for us to provide,” Froese said.
While the mobile clinic will play a big role in providing health care to seasonal workers, it will also be used to deliver services to other vulnerable populations such as people who are experiencing homelessness.
“Wherever people congregate (who) are experiencing barriers to care, we will be able to bring their health care to them,” Garner said.
Most of the service to farm workers is provided after hours, in the evenings and on weekends, Garner said, so it makes sense to use the van for other needs during the day rather than have it sit.
“We don’t want the clinic sitting in the parking lot all day during the week,” she said.
Moises Vasquez, a community health worker with Quest, said farms are already inquiring about scheduling a clinic visit.
“They have been reaching out to us and they are interested in working with us by having the mobile clinic on site. St. David’s (Hydroponics), for example. They keep workers all year-round and they are really looking into that.”