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Nonprofit To Expand Healthcare Coverage To Meat Processing Workers

Proteus Inc.
The Proteus Agricultural Health Program has been administering COVID-19 vaccines to agricultural workers through a traveling mobile clinic. It will start its healthcare coverage for meat processing workers late summer.

The non-profit organization Proteus Inc. has provided healthcare to agriculture workers in Iowa, Nebraska and Indiana for more than two decades. It found during the time of COVID-19, even more people were in need of its services. That’s why Proteus leadership decided to launch a new program that offers healthcare to another group of workers in the food field: meat processing workers.

"Hopefully most of us have recognized the important role that essential workers like farm workers and meat processing workers play in each and every one of our lives by helping to provide us all access to put food on our tables," Proteus CEO Daniel Zinnel said.

He said historically, it seems like individuals who work in food processing can sometimes be overlooked when resources and health services are doled out. Meat processing workers experienced higher rates of COVID-19 in the year 2020 than other populations. Iowa did not participate in this study.

After a successful pilot trial, the new healthcare program is starting small near the end of the summer with an estimated 100 clients at the Midwest Premier Foods facilities in Polk County. But Zinnel said he hopes to expand to bigger name companies in the coming years, such as Tyson Foods and JBS USA.

Initial funding for the launch is close to $150,000 in part from the Community Foundation of Greater Des Moines.

"What we got really excited about was how this could really create a tidal wave in terms of how healthcare would be conducted on site to really help meet people where they were," Angie Dethlefs-Trettin, the chief community impact officer, said about granting Proteus a grant from the Better Together fund.

Proteus has also included the University of Iowa as a research and evaluation partner.

"It just goes to show that there are people who are looking out for for those in need, that we're all impacted by farmworkers and meat processing workers every single day," Zinnel said. "Even though we don't think about them often, we should think about them every day."

Proteus healthcare will provide on-site, temporary mobile clinics at the meat processing facilities and offer follow-up healthcare services at its clinics or through a form of telehealth.

Midwest Premier Foods, the first company to partner with Proteus in this way, said it was excited to work with the nonprofit to provide healthcare for its employees.

"The fact is that small companies like ours are not always great at providing all of the best options for health care services to the people who need it the most. We believe that the more comfortable our employees are with the healthcare system, the more they will use it. Proteus will help make that happen," Midwest Premier Foods President Steven Nichol said in a written statement.

Proteus is currently looking for one more meat processing facility to commit to the partnership for the first year. The organization will be using a similar healthcare model it has used in the past for agricultural workers.

It was recognized by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for its COVID-19 testing and mitigation strategies and asked to write a model for other organizations working toward a similar goal. Zinnel noted they had zero deaths among their clients in 2020 and a decline in positive rates throughout the year.

Kassidy was a reporter based in Des Moines