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COURTESY PHOTO - Virginia Garcia was 6 years old when a cut on her foot led to an infection that claimed her life.In 1975, Washington County was a booming agricultural hub. Farmland dominated the landscape and provided the main industries for the region. Migrant and seasonal farmworkers, most of them Latino, took on these demanding jobs with low wages and a low life expectancy. But big changes were on the horizon.


Around this time, milestones in the farmworker movement with César Chávez were taking shape; California passed the first law to protect the right of farmworkers to organize; and a 6-year-old girl named Virginia Garcia came to Oregon.

Virginia, the daughter of migrant farmworkers, arrived in North Plains from Texas with her family to pick strawberries. Her family, like countless others across Oregon, followed the crops for work. And like many others, the Garcia family lived in a trailer at a farmworker camp, isolated from the towns and cities they worked to feed.

On her way to Oregon, Virginia got a simple cut on her foot, which then became infected. Her family sought medical treatment when they arrived in Oregon, but language barriers and camp conditions prevented her from receiving appropriate care. Days after receiving treatment, she was rushed back to the hospital, where she passed away on June 17, 1975.

Virginia’s untimely death, however, sparked an outcry — not only in Washington County, but in migrant farmworker communities across our region — by folks who were dismayed at the lack of access to basic health care. Members of Washington County’s Public Health Advisory Council and Centro Cultural in Cornelius banded together to create a clinic in the young girl’s name, with the hope that no other person in their community would die from something so treatable.

On July 3, 1975, the doors opened to Virginia Garcia Memorial Health Center, only weeks after Virginia had passed away.

What started as a small clinic in the borrowed space of a mechanic’s garage slowly began to grow. Staff and volunteers of the clinic drove out to the migrant camps to deliver services to farmworkers, and other members of the community who were without health care began to seek services in the clinics.

In the 40 years since its founding, the health center named for a young child has become the largest federally qualified health center (FQHC) in Washington County and Yamhill County, and is operated under Latino executive leadership. Virginia Garcia is ranked number one amongst FQHCs in Oregon for percentage of patients best served in a language other than English, with 75 different languages spoken by our patients.

The health center has also become a model clinic with a willingness to adopt innovative projects, taking on impressive new advances in health care delivery.

The experience of Virginia Garcia is the shared experience of countless farmworker families across the state. Virginia’s story ended tragically different than most, but her beginnings and her struggles are shared by thousands. Her legacy has become a larger story as the center now serves more than 40,000 patients each year across two counties and seven cities. Her name now represents a health care home, a chance for dignity and a path to success for many in our community.

We value our place in the community and the shared sense of mission with the residents of Washington County, and we look forward to another 40 years of providing the best care for those who need it most.

We invite our community to visit our clinics and spend time in our spaces. In fact, our Cornelius Wellness Center offers fitness and nutrition classes and boasts a beautiful garden, which are all open to the public. We are a space for our patients and our entire community.

We hope that when you think of Virginia Garcia or drive past one of our clinics, you think of the many lives that have been saved by having access to care in our clinics and the 500 dedicated staff members serving our community. But most importantly, we hope you will think of Virginia Garcia, the child who lost her life 40 years ago in our own back yard, and the legacy she left behind.

Gil Muñoz is CEO of Virginia Garcia Memorial Health Center in Cornelius.

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