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Health Services Provided through AgriSafe - NC

By Christine Neff

They work in one of the most dangerous professions in North Carolina, yet about 27 percent of the state’s agricultural families do not have health insurance, according to research by the North Carolina Agromedicine Institute at East Carolina University and the Cecil G. Sheps Center for Health Services Research.

Many farmers must choose between paying for farm operations and paying for health insurance, which can cost as much as $500 to $1,200 per individual. And if farmers do visit a doctor’s office, their physician may not consider the unique occupational hazards they face, such as skin cancer, respiratory illness, arthritis and mental health disorders, said Robin Tutor, interim director of the N.C. Agromedicine Institute.

“We all enjoy farmers’ products every day. We eat them; we wear them. These people provide us with so much, so we need to serve our farmers in return,” Tutor said.

In an effort to improve health for farmers and their families, the institute has brought AgriSafe-North Carolina, a program that provides agricultural occupational health and safety screenings at low to no-cost, to eastern North Carolina.

Through AgriSafe-NC, the institute partners with Tri-County Community Health Council to provide health screenings and follow-up health services for farmers, their families and non-migrant farm workers. Services are provided at the Carolina Oaks Health Center in Four Oaks or at other locations convenient for the individual such as a farm, agribusiness, Cooperative Extension office or other community location.

AgriSafe staff includes a family nurse practitioner, community outreach worker and family advocate. Services include health care with an emphasis on agricultural exposures, as well as education and outreach to prevent illness and injury on the farm.

Staff can help to identify resources for affordable dental care, medications, diabetic supplies and dealing with family challenges. Farmers can also select and be fitted with personal protective equipment such as respirators, safety glasses, hearing protection and chemical resistant clothing for the prevention of injury and illness.

Tutor called this a “one-stop shop.” “We want to look at the farm family’s total wellbeing, not just their physical wellbeing. We want to address the whole person,” she said. “And we recognize that farmers have unique demands on their time and resources.”

The AgriSafe Network started in Iowa, where it has been successful in reducing health insurance claims costs for farmers. A $100,000 grant from the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust Foundation funded the one-year pilot program in eastern North Carolina. Funding will continue through March, and Tutor said the institute is actively seeking new partners to keep the program going.

For more information, call the North Carolina Agromedicine Institute at (252) 744-1000 or Carolina Oaks Family Health Center at (919) 963-6400.

1/28/09
This page originally appeared in the Jan. 30, 2009 issue of Pieces of Eight. Complete issue is archived at http://www.ecu.edu/news/poe/Arch.cfm.