ICYMI: Hurtado on Vaccines, Ag Workers and the Valley

Dear Friends,

I hope this email finds you and your loved ones healthy. In case you missed it, I wrote the opinion piece below for the Fresno Bee in January. You’ll see that I have some thoughts about COVID-19 vaccinations, farmworkers and the Central Valley’s importance to California, the Nation and the world. I’ll have much more to share with you about what I’m working on in Sacramento in the coming months, but for now, please be safe and stay healthy.



P.S. In November, I chaired a Senate Human Services Committee hearing on how the pandemic has affected food assistance programs for vulnerable communities. You can watch that hearing here: https://www.senate.ca.gov/media/senate-human-services-committee-20201117/video

FRESNO BEE: State must act with urgency to prioritize agricultural workers for COVID-19 vaccinations

By State Sen. Melissa Hurtado

When I was a child, an alarm clock going off at 9 o’clock at night sounded the start of my mother’s work day.

“Beep, beep, beep,” marked the beginning of her daily journey down a dark country road littered with R.I.P. crosses on her way to her graveyard shift at the local meat processing plant.

I still remember fearing for my mom’s safety as she made this trek, but I always appreciated her sacrifice.

I’ve thought of these memories a lot during this ongoing pandemic, and the news of the COVID-19 related deaths of the workers at the local Foster Farms plant.

We struggle to make sense of the last 10 months. The cases, the hospitalizations, the mounting deaths, the terrible toll on our small businesses. We honor the heroic sacrifices of our health-care workers; we mourn the loved ones lost.

Through it all, the Valley keeps rolling.

The world demands what we have in strong supply - fruit, vegetables, nuts, dairy and meat.

This demand doesn’t wane. It’s constant - providing solid working-class jobs in an otherwise economically depressed region to workers like my mother.

On the surface, this relationship has worked for the good of the Valley and for people like me - the children of immigrants who labor in the fields and processing plants to provide for us.

The pandemic, however, is proving to be a stiff challenge to this structure. Agricultural workers are no longer just workers - they’re “essential” workers meeting a necessary demand for food.

Today, it’s not just a dark country road that makes a child fear for his or her mother’s safety at 9 o’clock at night - it’s the threat of mom catching COVID-19.

The pandemic has reminded us that our workers have needs just as important as their economic needs. Health care is top among them.

The state must act with urgency to prioritize agricultural workers for COVID-19 vaccinations and do everything it can to educate these workers - both documented and undocumented - on the safety of the vaccines.

Over the longer-term, the problem is that our rural communities simply don’t have adequate health-care infrastructure. The pandemic has only made it worse.

The National Rural Health Association says that 121 rural hospitals have closed in the past 10 years. Three of those were located in the southern San Joaquin Valley within 60 miles of each other - Kingsburg Medical Center (2010), Corcoran District Hospital (2013) and Coalinga Regional Medical Center (2018).

That’s 69 hospital beds gone over eight years. Did the demand for these beds decrease? Could anyone say that now, amid a devastating pandemic?

Of course, we expect (and hope) that this pandemic will eventually end, and our culture and workplaces will go back to normal. Our health-care infrastructure problems, however, are ongoing.

Obesity, asthma, diabetes and Valley fever are chronic health problems in the region and aren’t going away any time soon. Another pandemic? Experts told us this one was overdue.

That’s why I’m embarking on a multi-year effort to bring an accredited medical school to the southern Central Valley that connects human, animal and environmental health. This will give our Valley students opportunities to serve our local communities and will grow our local provider base.

I’ve also introduced legislation to grow the medical provider pool in poorer rural regions by formalizing a pre-med pathway from the California Community Colleges system to medical schools.

Getting these proposals approved hasn’t been easy.

Every region of our state can make the case that it needs critical investment to manage California’s pandemic-driven health and economic crisis. Every region of our state had challenges to manage even before COVID-19.

Only one region, however, can credibly say that it “feeds the world.”

To some, that may sound like a cliché. But the mounting hospitalizations and deaths of our agricultural workers should remind all Californians that real people make those late night drives to graveyard shifts like my mom did years ago - and these real people deserve Californians’ support and investment.

State Sen. Melissa Hurtado (D-Sanger) represents the 14th Senate District, which includes parts of Fresno, Kern, Kings and Tulare counties. Email: https://sd14.senate.ca.gov/contact