Medical Care for Undocumented Restaurant Workers

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Medical Care for Undocumented Restaurant Workers

It's a public health issue when people who prepare food are sick

By Elizabeth Hanink, RN, BSN, PHN
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A community clinic and a restaurant workers group have joined together to pilot a new program, ROC-MD, that will provide care to undocumented workers who staff local restaurants. The program’s organizers, the Restaurant Opportunities Center (ROC) and St. John’s Well Child and Family Center, believe the program, initiated last fall, is the first in the nation. Official announcement of the effort is just now coming, as the sponsors seek new clients.

According to statistics published in the Los Angeles Times, about 75,000 restaurant workers in the city have no access to healthcare because of their immigration status. The impact on public health is incalculable because many workers come to work sick and prepare or serve food.

 An Alternative to Emergency Room Care

The program is not exclusively for undocumented workers; restaurant workers who do have legal status but cannot afford care can also receive services. For $25 a month, subscribers can receive dental care, physicals and treatment for many common illnesses at one of several clinics run by St. John’s. Treatment is also available for some workplace injuries, such as cuts and burns.

The program does not seek to replace traditional healthcare services, but tries to ensure that workers can receive needed care without having to resort to much more costly emergency departments.

According to the L.A. Times, the effort is financed through a combination of grants, the cooperative funding of the workers themselves (through their $25 monthly payments) and the fact that many of the workers’ children are covered under Medi-Cal, which helps to offset the cost of adult care at the clinics.

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