Most days, 56-year-old Salvador Lopez pulls his well-worn shears out of his side pocket, takes respite from the Bakersfield heat as he ducks beneath a canopy of grape vineyards, then cuts and packages the fruit that feeds the world.

But on Thursday, it was Lopez, and a group of more than 50 other farmworkers in the fields south of Greenfield who were treated to a meal by Clinica Sierra Vista, which was celebrating National Health Center Week.

The meal, along with free health screenings provided by resident physicians in a mobile clinic, demonstrated the valley health provider’s commitment to migrant health, said Clinica Sierra Vista Director of Community Relations and Public Affairs Jennifer Self.

“This is who feeds our world,” Self said, standing before a cuadrilla of workers cutting grapes, weighing packages of produce, then finally heaving boxes onto trucks.

The event was just one of the ways Clinica Sierra Vista was celebrating National Health Centers Week. It provided health screenings and haircuts to homeless people Wednesday in Bakersfield, then again in Fresno on Thursday, and partnered to provide a forum about a lack of access to healthcare among immigrants driven by fear of deportation in Fresno. 

Back in Bakersfield on Thursday, fieldworkers ate lunches of chile verde, tortilla chips with salsa, enchiladas, and rice and beans. Then, enticed by the cool air conditioning, headed into a mobile clinic that was parked alongside their work stations for health screenings.

Resident physicians checked blood pressure, blood sugar and other essentials. The biggest worry, and expectation, among doctors? Dehydration and increased blood pressure levels in the 95 degree heat. Those conditions could require immediate trips to the emergency room, Matthew Beare, a resident physician, said.

“My blood pressure would be high if I were out there working in the heat, too,” Beare said.

Raul Gomez, a 32-year-old fieldworker, said he doesn’t get to the doctor very often. It was the same story for another woman who was ahead of him in line.

Harold Pierce / The Californian
Resident Physicians Matthew Beare and Ronald Gavilan speak with Raul Gomez, a 32-year-old fieldworker who visited Clinica Sierra Vista's mobile clinic Thursday in the vineyards south of Bakersfield. 

“It’s very important. You need a primary care doctor for annual check-ups,” Beare told the woman in Spanish, then referred her to a Clinica Sierra Vista neighborhood clinic near her Arvin home.

Clinica Sierra Vista CEO Steve Schilling said that from years of experience serving migrant workers, it was clear few visited primary care physicians on a regular basis and that the mobile health screening could be one of the few contacts they have with a doctor.

“They don’t come as often as they should and aren’t able to get to primary care and preventative care as quickly and as easily as we’d like them to,” Schilling said. “Coming out and promoting the importance of prevention and primary care and access is something we can’t ever stop doing with any population, especially people like this.”

Harold Pierce covers education and health for The Californian. He can be reached at 661-395-7404. Follow him on Twitter @RoldyPierce

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