For those that work the vineyards of Oregon’s Willamette Valley wine region, access to healthcare has always been an issue. Navigating the nuanced and red tape-laden avenues of the healthcare system can be difficult under the best of conditions. Unfortunately, the majority of seasonal workers move frequently from one crop to another, and their temporary status often makes them ineligible for coverage. Add in additional barriers like cost, language, lack of transportation, time and trust, and it becomes almost insurmountable. In response to this need, ¡Salud! was launched with the goal of alleviating or eliminating those barriers.
Unique to Oregon, ¡Salud! is a collaborative effort founded in 1991 by a group of winery owners and physicians in an attempt to support the community of vineyard workers. A project of OHSU Health Hillsboro Medical Center, ¡Salud! addresses the healthcare hurdles these workers regularly encounter. The program now serves approximately 2,500 patients each year, and all vineyard workers and family members in the Willamette Valley are eligible to participate.
The ¡Salud! Mobile Clinic visits vineyards and wineries throughout the grape-growing season each year, providing comprehensive health and vision screenings and dental exams, as well as health education. Each worksite wellness clinic is staffed by bilingual/bicultural registered nurses.
Case management and advocacy are critical components of ¡Salud!, facilitating patient navigation through the healthcare system, connecting clients with primary care providers and providing financial assistance. The service strives to build trust between staff and vineyard workers, providing the knowledge that they will receive quality and compassionate care.
Until recently, the dominant crisis within the community was diabetes. In early May, however, that shifted dramatically to COVID-19. Staff began refocusing in April but it took some time to get new protocols in place.
“In the months of March and April while the outreach clinics were on pause, we were still receiving a high volume of calls and inquiries about COVID-19,” says Stephanie Buchanan, ¡Salud! event coordinator. “I think sometimes there’s a gap in how information gets disseminated into the agricultural community, and ¡Salud! has built a trust with the vineyard workers here, so we’re able to connect them with other resources they might need. We knew there was a need to bring services and education to the places that are easy to access and we wanted to help in a way that breaks down those [convenience] barriers.”
Now, the team is offering no-cost COVID-19 screen at vineyard sites two to three times a week. Buchanan says the organization has held 20 clinics so far, assessing 401 people, 354 of which have completed the COVID screening. Around 3.6% of tests are coming back positive, reflecting the higher rate of COVID-19 among people of color and farmworkers. Those testing positive that are unable to properly isolate due to their living situations are isolated safely in a recovery shelter in Washington County.
However, Buchanan says they’ve seen the positive rate decrease since they started. “The trend that we’re seeing now, and adapting to and focusing on, is every person who screened gets a personal phone call with results,” she adds. “Even if they are negative now, that doesn’t mean they won’t be exposed in the future, so we educate to continue to be aware of the risks and take the recommended precautions.”
The critical services that ¡Salud! provides are funded by private donations, with the lion’s share coming from fundraising events: ¡Salud! The Oregon Pinot Noir Auction in November and an annual e-Auction held in July. In 2019, the events raised more than $1 million, bringing the program’s total to $17.2 million since its founding in 1991.
This year’s Summertime E-Auction will take place July 14-16. Up for bid will be one-of-a-kind Pinot Noir lots, plus mini-wine collections and wine country getaways in the silent auction. During those days, bids can be placed online from anywhere across the country on wines from 35 of the Willamette Valley’s finest wine producers, as well as the wine country getaways.
Participating wineries this year include Adelsheim Vineyard, Domaine Drouhin Oregon, Ken Wright Cellars, Penner-Ash Wine Cellars, Ponzi Vineyards, Purple Hands Winery, ROCO Winery, Soléna Estate, Soter Vineyards, Stoller Family Estate and Winderlea Vineyard & Winery, among many others.
“The COVID clinics are in addition to our normal operating funds so we are looking to use direct proceeds from the e-auction, including donations outside of any wine sales, to bolster this program going forward,” Buchanan says. “We are hoping to continue this through and into fall when harvest begins, but we know this will most likely be an ongoing project that we’ll need to see additional funding to continue this and regular [healthcare] clinics.”
As in years past, the Summertime ¡Salud! E-Auction is a preamble to November’s ¡Salud! The Oregon Pinot Noir Auction, a renowned wine community event for more than a quarter of a century. This year, ¡Salud! will move its November auction to an online platform for the first time, with the Big Board auction culminating on Saturday, November 7, and a live streaming event on Saturday, November 14.
It is in times of crisis that the better aspects of our humanity should shine through. Programs like ¡Salud! serve as a reminder that there are always those in need of assistance or access that many of us too often take for granted. And that we should always look out for and take care of one another — no matter the scale of the crisis.