Workers at three southern Chester County mushroom farms may soon be able to receive medical care during the workday without ever leaving the work site as a result of a grant totaling more than $1 million awarded to La Comunidad Hispana.

The money will fund the nonprofit's latest health initiative, one geared toward the Hispanic farm workers called the Work Healthy Project.

It will be incorporated with La Comunidad's existing health program, Project Salud, and is set to begin in October, according to Isidoro Gonzalez Jr., La Comunidad's executive director.

"This was a dream that we thought about two years ago," he said.

More than $480,000 for Work Healthy comes from a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The money will be spread out over four years.

"Hopefully, (we'll) develop a model that we can self-sustain after the four years of the Robert Wood Johnson grant and extend to other industries," Gonzalez said.

Some the balance of the grant money will be provided by the three participating farms, Kaolin Mushroom Farms, Phillips Mushroom Farms and SherRockee Mushroom Farms.

The farm owners also are contributing the space on their properties to set up the on-site clinics and are paying construction costs, Gonzalez said.

"The growers took a vested interest to make this happen," he said, "They see this as one of the priorities, promoting the health and wellness of their workers."

Gonzalez said he was first approached with the idea of onsite health care for the workers by Mike Pia, co-owner of Kaolin Mushroom Farms.

Pia in a statement released last week said, "Given Kaolin's sense of responsibility toward the well being of our employees, this Work Healthy initiative will address the challenging and ever changing health needs of our dynamic, immigrant work force and will allow us to promote healthy habits."

It is expected the program will serve 300 farm employees per year, providing them with access to primary health care services in a clinic staffed by a nurse practitioner and health education information.

A "health educator" will work with mushroom farm management staff to develop healthy workplace initiatives, like wellness incentive programs, smoke-free policies and health fairs.

Serafina Youngdalh Lombardi, the union representative for the Kaolin Mushroom Works Union, was hesitant to completely endorse Work Healthy, but said "it may make (health care) more accessible because some workers really have transportation difficulties."

She also said with La Comunidad involved, workers can be assured there will be Spanish-speaking individuals staffing the clinic.

However, Youngdalh Lombardi said there are philosophical differences between the union and the work done at La Comunidad - primarily in their stances on organized labor.

La Comunidad has taken a "neutral" position on the unionization of the mushroom farm workers.

"We are trying to empower people to have control of their situation," Youngdalh Lombardi said, "and they don't always feel that way when they go there."

Other organizations and individuals contributing to the Work Healthy Project are The Philadelphia Foundation, Brandywine Health and Wellness Foundation, Chester County Hospital Foundation Health and Welfare Foundation of Southern Chester County, Independence Blue Cross, Independence Foundation and Robert McNeil.

La Comunidad Hispana has provided an array of social, medical and educational services to southern Chester County's Latino population since 1973. The organization estimates there are about 30,000 Mexican immigrants living in the county currently.

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