December 03, 2000

In response to the alarming findings of a recent benchmark study on the health of California's agricultural workers, The California Endowment, the state's largest health care foundation, has assembled a blue ribbon task force of agricultural, health, labor and political leaders to find meaningful and long-term solutions to the health crisis.

Former Congressman Esteban Torres will head the 20-member task force. Torres served in the House of Representatives for 16 years and was one of the first Latinos elected to Congress. He has been an outspoken leader on behalf of agricultural workers throughout his career.

"It's shocking that in the nation's richest agricultural state, these workers have little or no access to basic health care when they contribute so much to our economy," Torres said. "I'm looking forward to working with The California Endowment and my colleagues over the next several months to help bring about significant changes."

The task force is poised to affect the future health of this underserved population by pooling their experience and resources. Members include such notable leaders as Dean Florez, Assembly Member, 30th District; Sarah Reyes, Assembly Member, 31st District; David Hayes Bautista, Ph.D., Director of the Center for the Study of Latino Health & Culture, UCLA School of Medicine; Vibiana Andrade, Vice President, Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF); Juan Arambula, Fresno County Supervisor, Third District; and Doug Blaylock, Administrator of RFK Farm Worker Medical Plan, United Farm Workers; Don Dressler, President of Insurance Services for the Western Growers Association; Diana Bonta, R.N., Ph.D, Director, California Dept. of Health Services; and Henry Cisneros, D.D.S., Chief Dental Officer, Family HealthCare Network.

Additional task force members include Irma Cota, MPH, Executive Officer, North County Health Services; Ralph DeLeon, President, SAMCO; George Flores, M.D., M.P.H., Health Officer/Director of Public Health, San Diego County Health & Human Services Agency-Jane Henderson, Ph.D., Executive Director, California Children and Families State Commission; Ilene Jacobs, J.D., Director of Litigation, Advocacy & Training, California Rural Legal Assistance, Inc.; Martha Lopez, Ed.D., University of California Cooperative Extension; Dona Mast, Board Member (past President), Yolo County Farm Bureau; Adolfo Mata, Director of Hispanic Health Initiative, USHHS/Bureau of Primary Health Care; Arnoldo Torres, Executive Director, California Hispanic Health Care Association; and Don Villarejo, Ph.D., Consultant and Founder of the California Institute for Rural Studies.

Robert K. Ross, M.D., President and CEO of The California Endowment is pleased by the breadth of experience and commitment that these individuals bring to the table. Said Ross, "We look forward to working together with these outstanding leaders, and hope that their recommendations will be instrumental in shaping future policy and programs in California to increase access to health care and medical services for our state's agricultural workers."

The California Agricultural Worker Health Survey (CAWHS), the first comprehensive study to examine farm labor health issues, found an alarmingly high risk for heart disease, stroke, hypertension and diabetes among the state's agricultural workers, most of whom are young men who should be in peak physical condition, especially considering their labor-intensive jobs. Among the study's most startling findings were the revelations that young agricultural workers (20 to 34-years-old) are more than twice as likely to have high blood pressure as other U.S. adults and that more than three out of four were overweight or obese when compared to other U.S. adults. Male agricultural workers were four times more likely to suffer from iron deficiency anemia, an indication of poor nutrition.

An overall trend of the study, conducted by the California Institute for Rural Studies, dealt with the access to health care. Through extensive one-on-one interviews of nearly 1,000 workers in six of the state's major agricultural areas, the study discovered that more than a third of the male agricultural workers have never seen a doctor or been to a health clinic. In future examinations, which included full blood work up and urine testing, over half of the males and 40 percent of the female agricultural workers had never been to a dentist, even though more than a third of the men and nearly 40 percent of the women had at least one rotten, broken or missing tooth.

For additional information or a complete copy of the study contact Elinor Gilbert, External Communications at (818)932-3240.

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