Sonoma County Releases First-of-its-Kind Survey of Farmworker Health

On Monday, Sonoma County officials released results of a first-of-its-kind survey of farmworkers in the county.

It found that most workers in the county weren’t really migrants, that most of the workers live in the area and many have established families here. And according to survey results, about 23% of farmworker children who are eligible for health care coverage still remain uninsured.

“This is the first time anyone at the county level has done this kind of in-depth evaluation of the health indicators in the farmworker population,” said Brian Vaughn, director of the health policy, planning and evaluation division of the Sonoma County Department of Health Services.

“This is really a first step to put data behind our impressions of farmworkers’ health,” Vaughn said. “We want to get these findings out there so [stakeholders] can see the landscape of farmworkers’ health. Then everyone can decide what they want to do about it.”

The survey found that:

  • The majority of farmworkers do not migrate, but are permanent residents of Sonoma County and live with their families;
  • Wages in Sonoma County are slightly higher than other counties, but the cost of housing is much higher and farmworkers in the county spend a greater percentage of their income on housing than those in other counties;
  • In general, farmworker families live in unaffordable and overcrowded housing;
  • Almost all of the Sonoma County farmworker families earn insufficient incomes to meet their family’s basic needs;
  • Even though all children in Sonoma County are eligible for health insurance coverage, only 77% of them have insurance; and
  • Farmworkers have poor access to medical care in the county, particularly preventative care — due in part to limited health insurance coverage.

The Sonoma County Farmworker Health Survey was produced in partnership with California Human Development, a not-for-profit agency that provides job training, education and housing for the underserved. Chris Paige is its CEO, and he said the demographics are farmworkers in Sonoma County are consistent with many counties in California.

“We believe the disparities we noted are common to other counties in California,” Paige said.

This survey paints an accurate picture of the community so that a plan can be created to reduce farmworkers’ health disparities, he said.

“For instance, the farmworkers cited the high cost of transportation here,” he said. “There’s a vanpool program that was started in King County, and Sonoma has not signed on to that program yet. That could help.”

He said Sonoma and Napa counties have already acted to provide some housing for peak harvest workers, by forming an assessment to help build three farmworker housing centers, which he said has provided about 53,000 bed nights for farmworkers.

“There are things that can be done to ensure these marginalized populations have a home somewhere,” Paige said. “Everyone says these people are critical to the state’s food supply, but on the other hand we’re not going to ensure they’re in the state’s health system. I think there’s a disconnect there.”

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