“This is the Dream Team”… CIW, Partners In Health, and the Healthcare Network address unique partnership to fight Covid

Press Club of Southwest Florida hosts panel on Immokalee’s “Dream Team” COVID response as way forward for addressing increasing health inequality;

Jude Beauchamp, Partners in Health: Our partnership is “unique, and can be a model to be extended in other underserved, struggling communities”;

Gerardo Reyes, CIW: “To build something that makes sense, what you need is the people who are suffering the most to be part of crafting it, because they are the ones that know what it is that is failing.”

Earlier this month, CIW’s Gerardo Reyes Chavez spoke at a panel event that explored Immokalee’s COVID-19 response as a case study to discuss new and effective approaches to reducing healthcare inequality.  The event, convened by the Press Club of Southwest Florida and moderated by USA Today Investigations Editor Laura Greanias, was inspired by a fantastic in-depth article by Janine Zeitlin in the Naples Daily News.  Zeitlin’s piece followed community-based health care teams on the ground in Immokalee as they went door-to-door in their fight against Covid, showcasing the unique power — and success — of the collaboration among the CIW, Partners In Health (PIH), and the Healthcare Network. 

Reyes and co-panelists Dr. Jude Beauchamp from PIH and Julie Pedretti from Healthcare Network discussed what they described as a community health “Dream Team” (which also included the invaluable, Immokalee-based social services organization Misión Peniel), detailing how each organization contributed a different piece of the puzzle necessary for ensuring that farmworkers and their families could easily access education, testing, vaccination, and social supports, despite the overwhelming barriers to care that so many similarly poor and marginalized communities face.  It was the CIW that first sounded the alarm in the early months of the pandemic when state resources failed to appear despite skyrocketing case positivity rates, with first Doctors Without Borders and then Partners In Health answering the CIW’s call.  When the experts and advocates at Immokalee’s Federally Qualified Health Center (Healthcare Network) joined the team some months later, the unique partnership was formed, creating a model that became a blueprint for other regions — with the concrete results to show for it. 

While the pandemic has been disruptive to nearly every aspect of life over the past year and a half, it hasn’t actually disrupted the persistent problem of inequality in health.  If anything, the pandemic has only exposed and exacerbated the many pre-existing inequities in our country’s health system.  To address those underlying inequalities requires a totally different way of thinking, one that deliberately centers the needs of the people in the community at hand.  Panelist Erin Birney of the National Center for Farmworker Health summed up NCFH’s approach of funding this type of community-based work with this simple truth: “Healthcare happens in a community, not a clinic.”  This same concept is the foundation of the CIW’s worker-driven approach to human rights work, so it’s no surprise that, when applied to the problem of testing and vaccines, it would find similar success.  

As the CIW’s Gerardo Reyes points out in the discussion, the word “farmworker” wasn’t even mentioned in Florida’s response until May, months after the virus had already been spreading unabated. “Test positivity rates happen in our communities not by chance, but because we’ve not addressed the situations that make people vulnerable.” Outside of the Fair Food Program (which broke ground by creating the first mandatory protections against COVID-19 in agriculture and enforces those protections on all the farms in the Program), workers literally cannot afford to be sick, and as a result are fearful that seeking help could require them to quarantine and possibly even lose their jobs.  Despite being hailed as “essential workers,” farmworkers and their families have been largely left to fend for themselves in the fight against Covid, and the results have been devastating.  

The partnership with PIH, Healthcare Network, and Misión Peniel, and the support from the NCFH, on the other hand, has been important not only because it has created a real solution, but also because the collaboration acknowledges the humanity and dignity of each member of the community, and actively enlists their expertise and ideas.  As Gerardo says in the discussion, “it’s no secret that Immokalee is poor. But we’re architects too.” Farmworkers are not just “hands to do the job, incapable of crafting something for themselves,” he continues. “We know this because the Fair Food Program exists.” It’s not only a blueprint for protecting human rights in agriculture, but the inspiration for a model for protecting human rights that can be applied across global supply chains. 

At the top of this post is a short clip of some of the highlights from the panel. But if you have more time, we encourage you to watch the whole event on YouTube!