Health care 

Free clinic for farmers

Late this winter, Kavita Bay drove an hour from her home outside of Alberton to the Montana Migrant and Seasonal Farmworkers Council clinic in Lolo. There, she was given a wellness check—her first in some 10 years—at no cost. But Bay is neither a migrant nor a seasonal worker. She’s the co-owner of Rivulet Apiaries, a beekeeping business she runs year-round with her husband, and she’s exactly the kind of patient the recently opened clinic is hoping to serve—if it can just compel people to take advantage of what it’s offering.

The clinic, which opened this January, offers health care to anyone who works primarily in agriculture, from farmers and ranchers to plant nursery employees, Christmas tree harvesters and those who grow and barter their own food. Patients pay only what they can afford.

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While the offer of free or low-cost care sounds like an easy sell, the clinic has had trouble signing up patients. So far, only about 100 individuals have registered in a service area that extends from the Bitterroot to the Flathead. By contrast, some 1,000 clients are registered at each of the council’s three other clinics in Billings, Dillon and Fairview, which mainly serve migrant Hispanic laborers. The disparity, according to local outreach workers, is due to many factors.

“In other parts of the state you might go to one ranch and find 10-15 workers in need of care. Here, we have to go from farm to farm to farm, because it’s usually one or two people in a family that work this way,” outreach worker Kelsey Angel says. “It’s a lot more leg work. It’s a lot more travel … It’s been interesting tailoring our message to fit an English-speaking, native Montana, sustainable-growing crowd, and letting them know that primary preventative wellness is part of being a sustainable farmer in Montana.”

Angel and her colleagues are working hard to get that message out over the phone, door-to-door and at farmers markets throughout western Montana. They’re also pointing potential patients to their website at mtpca.org/mtmigrant.htm.

“Honestly, it’s just going to take time,” Angel says. “It’s about showing people that we’re here everyday and that we plan to be here for years, and building that trust.”

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