Agricultural Workers’ Access to Health Project, Watsonville
Dori Rose Inda has developed an innovative, collaborative model that ensures low-wage workers with work-related injuries and illnesses have access to medical treatment and benefits under the worker’s compensation system.
The farm workers arrive at Dori Rose Inda's Watsonville legal-aid office with what can often be heart-wrenching injuries: a hand amputated by a lawn mower, a back broken falling from a tree. The hard-working men and women who grow fresh food for California's tables endure physically grueling conditions with a high risk of accidents from heavy machinery and pesticide exposure.
California law guarantees all sick and injured employees medical care and financial support through the legally mandated workers' compensation system. Yet many of the state's 5 million low-wage workers lack access to state-required care. Rose Inda, a former social worker turned attorney, established the Agricultural Workers' Access to Health Project in 2002 to help improve injured workers' access to the medical care and financial assistance that their employers are legally bound to provide. The project provides outreach, education, medical treatment, and legal services to agricultural and other low-wage workers.
As a result of these efforts in Monterey, Santa Cruz, and San Benito counties, nearly 900 workers have received medical care and financial support for job-related injuries and illnesses. Employees of illegally uninsured companies, who often faced two-year delays before receiving workers' compensation benefits, now wait less than two months on average.
Rose Inda explains, "It's about having a healthy workplace. A healthy workplace leads to healthy workers and a successful business."
Rose Inda has collaborated with Kaiser Permanente to transform a Watsonville community clinic, Salud Para La Gente, to serve as a workers' compensation provider. She calculates that replicating this service-delivery model throughout California might save taxpayers as much as $100 million a year, by shifting the cost of treating injured workers at the community clinics from state and municipal coffers to the employer-funded workers' compensation program.
In search of more broad-based change, Rose Inda has been meeting with directors of clinics and legal service agencies from Oakland, Anaheim, and Central Valley cities that want to replicate her pioneering efforts. She also leads a statewide collaborative of more than 25 public agencies, nonprofits, attorneys, and employers dedicated to improving the workers’ compensation system so that taxpayers and law-abiding businesses no longer subsidize illegally uninsured companies.
Employers already obeying state law may especially appreciate Rose Inda's work. Every year, all insured firms must pay into the Uninsured Employers Benefits Trust Fund, to compensate injured workers employed by firms skirting the law. As more companies get their own insurance, every business can pay less.
"The intention is to ensure injured workers have medical care and, ultimately, to save the state money," Rose Inda says.
For her innovative, collaborative approach to ensuring that low-wage workers have access to medical treatment and benefits under the workers' compensation system, Dori Rose Inda is a recipient of a 2011 James Irvine Foundation Leadership Award.
Video by Talking Eyes Media
Dori Rose Inda