By Melissa Evans, Staff Writer | Posted: 07/26/2011 06:11:34 PM PDT | Source: DailyBreeze.com
They may have come to America for a better life, but many of the migrant day laborers in the Wilmington area suffer poor health and work conditions, a study presented Tuesday found.
Among the workers surveyed for the 2011 Wilmington Health Summit, 85 percent said they lack health insurance and a disproportionate number suffer chronic conditions such as high blood pressure and asthma.
Students and researchers who worked on the health study urged the public to get involved and help inform day laborers of available services.
“The findings clearly show (day laborers) don’t come here to utilize health services,” said Lisa Hean, a medical student involved in the research. “Many struggle to find work, and suffer all kinds of abuse and harassment.”
Roughly two dozen high school and college students, along with medical students and researchers from County Harbor-UCLA Medical Center near Torrance, conducted interviews and offered health services for more than 300 day laborers and low-income residents this summer.
The effort is part of an annual fellowship coordinated by the Department of Family Medicine at Harbor-UCLA and Los Angeles Biomedical Research Institute.
One of the goals is to get medical students interested in serving disadvantaged places such as Wilmington, where there is roughly one for every 7,000 residents. The region, part of Los Angeles, is also bounded by five oil refineries and the twin ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.
The bulk of residents are Spanish-speaking, and a majority have no health insurance or regular , according to the student research.
The fellowship began in 1991 after s noticed that many patients without insurance being treated in the emergency room came from the ZIP code that covers Wilmington, said John Feng, a medical student involved in the study.
“We want to encourage the community to think about their health and be equipped to take care of themselves,” he said.
Day laborers are a particularly vulnerable population, researchers said.
Among those who came to a health fair at a day laborer site in Wilmington, more than a quarter suffered from asthma and 70 percent were considered either overweight or obese.
In subsequent interviews, all of the laborers said they migrated to America from Mexico in search of a better life, jobs and more opportunities.
“These reasons are something we should celebrate, not look down on,” said Chardonnay Vance, a medical student.
Many of these laborers, however, endure poor and dangerous working conditions and earn meager wages, from $276 to $1,162 a month.
The students touted federal legislation known as the Dream Act, which would provide citizenship to some youth who are here illegally, and state legislation that would provide universal health care.
They also encouraged the community to help get the word out about state and federal programs that are now available, particularly for children.
“It is not paperwork or legal documents, but passion and work ethic that make you part of this country,” said Brian Levin, a student at Palos Verdes High School who participated.