A Community Health Worker is a trusted member of the community who empowers their peers through education and connections to health and social resources. Although they operate in many different settings, improving health outcomes for vulnerable populations is a common goal shared between both Community Health Worker (CHWs) programs and health care center programs. CHWs are a great addition to health care center teams. They are unique to traditional outreach workers in that their cultural identity allows them to understand their local communities on a deep and fundamental level. Being that they live in the communities they serve, CHWs have a deep understanding of the cultural factors that impact an individual’s health. They use this knowledge to determine best practices when conducting outreach, facilitating educational sessions, providing case management, and assisting people with social service applications.
Successful CHWs also nurture important connections inside their communities, which can be a vital resource for a health center or organization seeking to implement health initiatives directly where individuals live, work, worship, and play. They use this knowledge to fluidly determine the best approaches for conducting daily outreach, facilitating educational sessions, providing case management, and assisting people with social service applications.
For instance, individuals in predominantly Spanish speaking neighborhoods may have trouble understanding information and instructions from their health care provider. This may be for a number of reasons, but common barriers typically include linguistic barriers as well as cultural differences. CHWs can step in to serve as translators, and even follow up with individuals after the fact to ensure the information is truly understood and retained. Additionally, CHWs share their knowledge of cultural views and social stigmas with health care professionals so that those professionals can also adapt their strategies to provide the highest quality of care possible.
Community Health Workers have a long history of improving health outcomes for individuals that live in underserved areas. For example, participants who partook in our recent initiative that supported survivors of Intimate Partner Violence reported lower levels of stress and depression, as well as higher feelings of empowerment and community support. The initiative also illustrated the business-case for CHWs, as the initiative returned of $1.73 per dollar invested.
In addition to the unique insight CHWs can provide on populations, they possess the skill-sets to fill a variety of roles that fall within the scope of practice of many health care organizations. For example, CHWs can help coordinate medical appointments, provide coaching and social support, help individuals navigate health care systems, implement individual and community assessments, and participate in evaluation and research. The ability to do this work is a small part of the value that CHWs can add to any health care center.