The variety of work CHWs perform allows for flexibility in the way organizations implement CHW programs in their communities. Because CHW programs can be tailored to fit the needs of specific populations, definitions within the profession vary. Although variations exist, there are key themes shared across all of the ways CHWs are described. MHP Salud has compiled these themes and used over 35 years of experience implementing CHW programs to define Community Health Workers as…
a trusted member of the community who empowers their peers through education and connections to health and social resources.
In urban areas, there are a variety of health professional positions that share similar qualities of Community Health Workers. For example, Health Educators and Outreach Workers are titles used to describe health professionals who provide health information and education. Healthcare Workers and Navigators may be used to describe CHWs that focus on connecting individuals to health care services. These positions share a similar responsibility with CHWs, to serve as a bridge between the health care system and the community.
However, what makes CHWs unique is that they must be a member of the community they are serving. This qualification means that CHWs are equipped with a deep understanding of the cultural norms and practices within their community. They can use this understanding to strategize the use of the most effective methods to perform the duties of their role.
MHP Salud implements CHW-led programs in predominantly Hispanic urban communities in the Tampa and Orlando region of Florida, on the topic of Healthy Relationships. These programs provide information, resources, and support to survivors of domestic violence, intimate partner violence, and sexual assault. Although many individuals are victims of these crimes, Latinas face unique challenges.
50% of Latinas who experience abuse never report it to authorities due in part to the fact that Latina survivors prefer to talk with trusted family members and friends.13,14 The nature of the relationship between CHWs and those they serve through our Healthy Relationship programs allows them to fill the role of that trusted member. CHWs also had established connections with local organizations and groups which helped identify individuals who needed services and offered safe spaces for groups to meet. These collaborations are crucial in urban areas where resources are often limited because of high demand. Further, they help establish a continuum in which CHWs can refer individuals to services that are available within the same space of the program.
These programs demonstrate that whether CHWs implement programs in rural or urban settings, the services they provide are crucial in connecting communities that face barriers to health to the services they need.