Southwest Center for Occupational and Environmental Health

Anabel Rodriguez, SWCOEH outreach program, deliver COVID-19 relief payments to ag workers in New Mexico

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Anabel Rodriguez, SWCOEH outreach program, deliver COVID-19 relief payments to ag workers in New Mexico

Anabel Rodriguez, PhD, the outreach program director for the Southwest Center for Occupational and Environmental Health (SWCOEH), continued her team’s outreach efforts with a visit to dairy farms in Clovis, New Mexico. To learn more about the trip, below is a Q and A with Dr. Rodriguez.

SWCOEH.org: What was the purpose of your trip to Clovis, New Mexico?

Dr. Rodriguez: “Like many of the trips we take to remote farms in Texas and New Mexico, we try to ‘kill as many birds with one stone’. We like to make as big as an impact as possible because we know our time on farms is limited (to avoid disrupting production). We might only have one touch-point with some workers due to the high turnover rate in the dairy industry.

SWCOEH.org: Can you detail the Covid-19 relief payments you provided there?

Dr. Rodriguez: “Our team leveraged funds from the USDA Farm and Food Workers Relief Grant Program, to distribute one-time $600 COVID-19 relief payment for wages and time lost during the pandemic for agricultural workers (March 30, 2023 – September 30, 2024). Our team has been assigned payments for 5,000 agricultural workers across the Rio Grande Valley, Texas Panhandle, Eastern New Mexico, Western Kansas, and Southern Idaho. To date, our team has enrolled more than 4,500 agricultural workers (distributing over $2.7 million in relief payments). In addition, our communications team is filming a short documentary highlighting the lives and struggles of agricultural workers and their families and the impacts of community outreach like the USDA relief program.

On this visit to Clovis, were also able to distribute weatherized personal protective equipment (PPE) for summer and winter for dairy farm workers courtesy of the Southwest Center for Occupational and Environmental Health (SWCOEH). In collaboration with Sembrando el Sueno (Lus Chavez and Cyntia Ramirez), we were able to reach approximately 200 workers in Clovis, New Mexico. Appropriate summer and winter clothing PPE is essential for outdoors workers to continue to work in a healthy and safe manner. 

SWCOEH.org: What did you learn on this visit?

Dr. Rodriguez: We found that there is a huge need for appropriate winter clothing and access to health care services. During the winter, the Texas Panhandle and Eastern New Mexico experience high winds, temperatures in the low 10s-20s, and ice and snow events. Most workers are immigrant, Hispanic males of 30-35 years of age from Mexico or Guatemala, where winter is not as extreme. Most workers, especially new arrivals, are not ready for the cold winter nor the scorching summer temperatures. Enduring these weather extremes without proper clothing and PPE can be uncomfortable, dangerous, and life threatening. We were glad the SWCOEH was able to provide amazing high-visibility long sleeve shirts and bucket hats for those who feed our nation every day. 

SWCOEH.org: How did this research compare to previous trips to the Texas Panhandle and elsewhere?

Dr. Rodriguez: Most data collection trips involve research or recruitment efforts. This trip focused on outreach and ‘meeting workers where they are’— not just physically but allowing them to be active participants in our work. We listened to their needs and their lived (work) experiences and how our SWCOEH Outreach Program can fill those gaps. I find that these are some of the most important trips. We listen with intention and an open mind and heart to learn from those who are in the workforce every day. This is how great research projects are proposed, executed, and then practiced as solutions to problems. 

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SWCOEH.ORG: Is there anything else you’d like to add? 

Dr. Rodriguez: More than ever, we need to find gratitude for our farmers, agricultural workers, and their families. They were deemed essential non-healthcare workers during the pandemic and left without protections and excluded from vaccine priority lists. We need to take a good look at the past and what we missed to not make the same mistakes during the next epidemic or pandemic. We need to take care of our food supply chain workers and prioritize their health, safety, and well-being.

The SWCOEH provides graduate-level training opportunities for occupational and environmental health professionals through our industrial hygiene, occupational and environmental medicine, occupational epidemiology, and Total Worker Health® programs.