Albany Doctor-Farmer Phil Hajek Brings Preventative Care to Ag Workers
Monday, June 3rd, 2013
Phil Hajek is the type of doctor you go to when something already is broken. The Albany, Ga., orthopedist is a farmer himself, but most of the guys he sees in his office have injures.
“I saw a guy who fell off his tractor Sunday. There are those types of injuries in our practice,” Hajek said. “But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve developed more interest in preventative medicine.”
He grew even more intrigued by the thought of bringing preventative care to farmers when his own friend had a heart attack.
“On a Friday, me and my buddy Rodney were putting on plow points, and on Sunday he woke up with an elephant on his chest,” Hajek said. His friend was rushed to the hospital, where doctors and a defibrillator saved his life.
“He’s 56 years old. He had what should have been a fatal heart attack and felt fine a few days before,” the doctor said. “He was out working on plow points and on the irrigation system with me two days before … he could have dropped dead right then. And I know I couldn’t have saved him in that field.”
Hajek, one of the doctors at Musculoskeletal Associates in Albany, started looking several months ago for a trailer that he could turn into a mobile health clinic, a rolling office that he could take to farming expos and FFA conventions to offer tests as simple as cholesterol screenings and blood-sugar readings.
“I thought, we’ll just get a horse trailer and convert it for $12,000, but that’s not what happened,” Hajek joked.
A friend gave him a lead on an unused medical trailer in Dothan, Ala., and after months of planning and restoration, the trailer is ready to go. It’s named the MSA Ag Health Initiative and bears the tagline “Growing Healthy Farmers.”
Some long-term studies have shown farmers are less likely than the general population to suffer from some types of cancers and other health problems, presumably because of their active lifestyle.
However certain risk factors – like sun exposure – just come with the job.
Farmers are exposed to lots of dust and other particles like mold spores; they can suffer from arthritis brought on by repeated stress to joints and ligaments; they are exposed to agricultural chemicals, pesticides and anhydrous ammonia; and they often lose hearing after years of exposure to loud machinery.
But one of the main risk factors – and the one that continued to bug Hajak – is that many agricultural workers don’t get medical tests because they live far away from a doctor’s office and are busy during daylight hours.
“I think it’s a less expensive way to deliver healthcare. You can’t expect everybody to leave behind their job and come into town to do these kind of things. I think people would be more apt to do them if the service was brought to them,” he said.
While farmers are more prone to some conditions, common health problems can be just as deadly.
“Most of them don’t get anything checked. They just don’t go to the doctor unless they already are sick,” he said.
As people get older, they know that they should have some tests. But lots of folks wait, thinking what they don’t know can’t hurt them, Hajek said.
“They think, ‘Is my PSA elevated? Is my cholesterol elevated? Well, if I don’t look at it, I won’t know,’” he said. “But those can be silent killers – especially if you are ignoring them.”
Hajek owns 2,400 acres in South Georgia and farms about 150 acres himself, growing grain sorghum , soy beans, wheat, peanuts and tomatoes.
This week, the Alliance for Health Education borrowed the truck to do screening for migrant workers.
“They are breaking it in for us,” Hajek said.
To contact Hajek or find out how to sponsor the truck, go to www.msa4life.com