The group of eight men sits in a semi-circle at Oregon’s Eola Hills Wine Cellars, clipboards in their hands. Clad mostly in jeans, t-shirts and ball caps, they’re quiet as they begin listening to a presentation not about the day’s schedule or vineyard safety, but the food pyramid and how to spot and report child abuse. Soon there’s questions being asked and answered in both English and Spanish.
This is the first part of these vineyard employees’ afternoon with ¡Salud!, a one-of-its-kind preventative health care service supported exclusively by Oregon’s winemaking community. ¡Salud! was founded in 1991 by Tuality Healthcare and a handful of producers concerned about how their seasonal workforce could gain access to basic healthcare, since they are not eligible for employer-sponsored plans due to the temporary nature of their work.
Throughout the year, a team of medical professionals from Tuality Healthcare Foundation’s partner clinics, universities and organizations travels to wineries throughout the Willamette Valley to provide diabetes screening, blood pressure checks, eye exams and other services. If they detect a problem—for example, if they discover someone with very high cholesterol—they can arrange for a doctor’s visit. They also staff a year-round hotline to answer questions and provide referrals about related issues, such as housing and food insecurity.
Anyone who has worked for a winery or in a vineyard one day during the year can access ¡Salud!’s services… All told, it serves around 2,500 people annually.
An important goal of the program is to build trust and connect people to the services that exist in their communities so they know where to turn for help when they need it, explains Maria McCandless, manager at the Tuality Healthcare Foundation.
Many wineries employ temporary farmworkers who hail from countries where people head to the equivalent of a U.S. emergency room for day-to-day ailments, she says. “And here [in the U.S.], it works differently because if you go to an emergency department, you’re going to get hit with a big bill no matter what your problem is.” The ¡Salud! team helps people understand where they can seek services for simple problems like poison oak, and to utilize the emergency room only in true emergencies.
Anyone who has worked for a winery or in a vineyard one day during the year can access ¡Salud!’s services. The program is also open to family members of vineyard workers. All told, it serves around 2,500 people annually.
Since the beginning of May, the clinics have been entirely focused on Covid-19 screenings for workers and their families.
“Whether it’s agricultural work or grocery stores or other fields, many people in the Latinx population are essential workers, so they’re seeing more exposure,” says Stephanie Buchanan, ¡Salud! event coordinator. Data from the Oregon Health Authority shows that more than one-third of people with reported cases of Covid-19 list their ethnicity as Hispanic, while people who are Hispanic or Latinx make up only 13% of Oregon’s population.
The program is also working closely with employers to make sure they have up-to-date information and procedures for keeping workers safe.
While the pandemic has illuminated issues for temporary winery workers and many others, it also mobilizes ¡Salud!’s partners and supporters. In addition to partnerships with entities such as Oregon Health & Science University, Pacific University’s College of Health Professions and Medical Teams International, the organization secures funding at its annual November auction. More than 40 companies donate wine.
Meanwhile, from July 14–16, 2020, ¡Salud! will host a digital auction of small-lot Pinot Noir from 35 Willamette Valley producers, among other items, to raise funds for Covid-19 screening and treatment.
“If you can’t care for the people who are working for you, your business isn’t going to work,” says Mia Ponzi Hamacher, part of the third generation of family members involved at Oregon’s Ponzi Vineyards.
Nancy Ponzi, Hamacher’s grandmother, was one of ¡Salud!’s founders. Hamacher said her family got involved because of their deep belief that that every person involved with their business deserved to be cared for and respected.
“Everybody that works in the field—the wine industry could not exist without them,” says Hamacher. “They’re the very core of everything we do.”
Last Updated: May 8, 2023