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AgriSafe extends network to protect farmer health

Kevin Dubbert has a standing appointment at Spencer Hospital. And that's no accident.

During the past eight years, the 53-year-old Laurens, Iowa, farmer has gone there annually to participate in a free health screening offered at the AgriSafe Occupational Health Services Clinic at the hospital.

"Farmers typically don't go to the doctor unless they're dying," he says. "I probably went about twice until I was 30. As I got older, I began thinking it was a good idea to get baseline screenings and to monitor changes."

AgriSafe has been offering agricultural occupational health and safety services to Iowans since 1987. This network of health professionals recently has expanded to Alabama, Kansas, Illinois, Missouri, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Vermont, and Wisconsin.

"Diseases and illnesses often have an occupational link," says Natalie Roy, executive director, AgriSafe Network. "Farmers are at a higher risk for lung disease, hearing loss, and other conditions."

Carolyn Sheridan, AgriSafe clinical director, Spencer Hospital, agrees. "Chronic health problems don't need to be part of farming," she says.

AgriSafe offers a range of health services, including tests for lung function and blood pressure, and screenings for hearing, skin cancer, cholesterol, and vision. Based on the results, clinicians may make referrals to a specialist or family physician.

"Unfortunately, most physicians and nurses aren't trained in agricultural occupational diseases and conditions," Roy says. "They lack the skills to provide preventive care or recognize early-warning symptoms."

AgriSafe health professionals receive 40 credit hours in ag health and safety. Training has been conducted in five states this year and is scheduled for Vermont this fall.

"We're taking it on the road and trying to make it as accessible as we can," Sheridan says. Web-based educational training also is available.

AgriSafe clinics also help fill the need for a local source of personal protective equipment (PPE).

"People tell us that they can't find the equipment, and when they do, they don't know how to select the proper gloves for the chemicals they're applying or the right type of respirator," Sheridan says. "A dust mask with one strap can't protect lungs from tiny particles of dust or mold. AgriSafe clinicians are trained to help select the right equipment."

For a clinic listing, visit the Web site (listed below). AgriSafe's online Safety Store also is a resource.

AgriSafe is a nonprofit, so the proceeds from PPE sales go to provide services to the ag community.

AgriSafe also offers on-farm services. Dixie Daugherty, Van Buren County Hospital AgriSafe Clinic, Keosauqua, Iowa, has conducted voluntary safety assessments of farm equipment and buildings.

"We're seeing healthier and safer farmers," Daugherty says. "If we would have had AgriSafe 50 years ago, our farmers wouldn't be suffering as much from hearing loss, poor pulmonary function, and back pain."

Roy agrees. "Today farmers can take an active role by wearing PPE and by asking health providers the right questions," she says.

AgriSafe Network, 1200 1st Avenue East, Spencer, IA 51301

Kevin Dubbert has a standing appointment at Spencer Hospital. And that's no accident.

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