April 04, 2020

Blueberry rakers in good hands> Medical teams treat nearly 600 workers during ’94 season

COLUMBIA — The annual Rakers Center health care program, created by the Rural Health Centers of Maine, served about 600 people, while a new emergency food program served more than 800 during the first three weeks of the 1994 wild blueberry harvest.

The medical staff, which worked out of the Rural Health Centers’ new $180,000 motorized mobile clinic, was kept busy by providing health care services to a total of 549 migrant farm workers and their families.

“Although our small clinic served an average of 20 to 25 people each day from July 26 through Aug. 24, most of the service was required after the first week of the harvest,” said RHCM outreach worker Betty Grant of Columbia. “Our busiest time was our first night at the (Jasper Wyman Co’s.) C&D compound, when we processed 60 people.”

Five campgrounds on the county’s blueberry barrens were visited from 2 to 8 p.m. daily by the mobile unit, as a supplement to the unit’s service in the Raker Center’s parking lot.

Among the variety of health services dispensed, Grant said, were examinations for high and low blood pressure, diabetes and muscle strains. “We issued a lot of elastic bandages to those who were experiencing tendinitis in their wrists.”

According to Joan Mackie of Harrington, director of the Rakers Center that was established at the Columbia Town Hall, one of Grant’s responsibilities was that of bringing people to appropriate health care professionals at Down East Community Hospital in Machias, and to other facilities. “Grant brought several people to our Harrington Family Health Care Center, where they received emergency dental care from our resident dentist, Dr. Stephen Moon,” Mackie said.

The mobile unit was staffed by a medical director, Dr. Armand Auger; Dr. Scott Stylos; and Persis Hope, a family nurse practitioner. Also, the Augusta-based Maine Dartmouth Residency Program for doctors participated in the annual service to farm workers.

Although the health care staff treated fewer eye injuries this year, many other problems remained high, Grant said. She included venereal disease among the more frequent problems. Some people were treated for tuberculosis and AIDS.

One of the more traumatic experiences for health care professionals involved a Hispanic woman who gave birth to a premature baby in the parking lot of Down East Community Hospital at Machias. The mother and infant were later transferred to Eastern Maine Medical Center at Bangor. “Also, four women from migrant families experienced miscarriages during the 30 days that the Rakers Center operated.

Final statistics on the health care program were unavailable Monday from Dan Crocker of RHCM at Manchester.

Of the 1,337 people who registered at the migrant Rakers Center, 60 percent (801) were American Indians; 21 percent (286) were Hispanics, including Hatians; and 19 percent (250) were caucasian Americans.

In addition to the migrant farm workers who actually harvest the crop with hand-held rakes, blueberry growers hire more than 1,000 local people who either rake the crop or are involved in mechanical harvesting operations. Also, packing plants hire several hundred people who help process blueberries most of the year.

Grant, who wrapped up her 11th year as an outreach worker for RHCM, said she has seen the quality and extent of health care upgraded each year. However, the number of migrants has been slipping. About 700 migrants were served last year.

A new dimension of Grant’s outreach service this year was an emergency food program that served 861 people “out of the back of my pickup,” she said. The emergency foods, including canned peaches, pears, vegetables and a weekly donation of bread from a store in Ellsworth, were prepackaged in cardboard boxes at the center.

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