Community health worker program

A Beginner’s Guide to Building Your First Community Health Worker Program

Community health worker programs have mushroomed across the country. You’re likely among the many who want to benefit from your own CHW workforce.

Wondering where to begin?

The answer to that is that your community health worker program should mirror your own organization, clients and goals. However, you don’t need to start from scratch because you can learn from other successful programs around the country. At CHWTraining, we have first-hand access to how these programs are created.

So, with that in mind, let’s here are some suggested steps for beginning your own first CHW program.

Step 1: Require Core Competencies for All Community Health Workers

All community health workers, especially those new to the role, should start with the building blocks of a CHW program.

Those might differ in your state, but chances are they’re like those published by the CHW Core Consensus Project (The C3 Project).

The C3 Project’s thorough set of core competencies that are well known in programs across the country. These competencies prepare CHWs with the basic skills and knowledge needed to work with people and communities in improving their health and well-being.

Core Skills for a Community Health Worker Program

Here’s how they break down and why CHWs need each skill as part of a community health worker program.

Communication Skills: Clear and effective communication helps CHWs build good relationships with clients and deliver health information productively.

Interpersonal and Relationship-Building Skills: Strong relationships with people, communities, and healthcare providers improve collaboration and client-centered care.

Service Coordination and Navigation Skills: CHWs work through complex healthcare systems, connecting clients with resources for holistic care.

Capacity Building Skills: Giving power to people and communities helps self-sufficiency and sustainable health results.

Advocacy Skills: CHWs fight for clients’ needs so they have access to quality healthcare and social services.

Education and Facilitation Skills: CHWs deliver impactful health education programs and support behavior change for healthier ways of living.

Individual and Community Assessment Skills: Thorough assessments guide targeted interventions for unique needs and challenges.

Outreach Skills: Proactive outreach connects under-served populations with vital health resources.

Professional Skills and Conduct: Acting professionally and following ethical guidelines helps CHWs provide high-quality care to their clients.

Evaluation and Research Skills: CHWs measure the effect of their work and use evidence-based practices to improve their interventions.

Knowledge Base (Public Health Principles and Social Determinants of Health): Knowing about public health principles and social factors helps CHWs make better decisions to improve community health.

Step 2: Supplement with Other Training for New CHWs

The core skills give a general foundation for CHWs. The next step is up to you. You’ll have to research what kind of additional training your team needs. This might be training on your computer systems, detailed training regarding your clients or other areas.

Here are some to think about.

  • Orientation to the organization: Give all new employees an introduction to the mission, values, and culture of the healthcare organization.
  • Role-particular training: Detailed training on particular community needs or job functions of your CHWs.
  • On-the-job training: Hands-on experience working with experienced CHWs to learn practical skills.
  • Supervision and mentorship: Assigning a mentor to guide and support new CHWs during their initial months.

Step 3: Set a Grandparenting Program for Experienced CHWs

Some community health workers may have been working in their role for a long time and have gained plenty of job experience. Sometimes, they might not need to start from the beginning with core competencies training.

But it can still be a good idea to start them with core competencies just so they have a skills refresh. Also, they and your new CHWs can start from the same place.

If you want to recognize their experience and not make them go through the full training, you can set up a special program called a grandparenting process as part of your community health worker program.

A grandparenting program, also known as a “grandfathering” program, is a process where people with a good deal of experience or work history in a particular field are granted certain qualifications, certifications, or credentials without going through the full formal training required for new staff.

This way, experienced CHWs can get recognition for their skills and not have to start from scratch. And, you can still make sure that everyone is on the same page when it comes to core competencies.

Here’s how it works:

Eligibility: The program sets particular criteria, like a minimum number of years of experience or work hours. Only those who meet these requirements can qualify for the grandparenting program. Usually, it’s around 2000 hours, equal to one year of experience.

Documentation: Applicants need to provide evidence of their work history and skills to prove they’re eligible for the grandparenting status.

Review: A committee or group will assess the applicants’ qualifications to see if they meet the criteria for grandparenting.

Certification: If approved, they will receive formal recognition and certification, just like those who completed the standard training.

Note this can be a certificate of completion if a formal certificate isn’t important to you.

Limits: The program might have some limits on what qualifications or credentials can be earned through grandparenting.

Time Limit: You might set a deadline for applying for grandparenting. After that, all new CHWs must go through the regular training requirements.

Step 4: Set up a Retraining Process

Once CHWs have completed their initial training or have been recognized through a grandparenting program, their learning journey doesn’t stop there. In fact, it’s best if they keep learning throughout their career.

This ongoing learning process is what we call retraining.

A retraining program is a structured plan to help CHWs update and improve their knowledge, skills, and abilities while they’re already working.

The main goal of retraining is to offer continuous education and professional development opportunities. This lets CHWs stay up-to-date with the latest advancements, best practices and industry standards.

Think about how often CHWs should participate in these training sessions and what they should learn. Many CHW programs require staff to go through retraining every 2-3 years. Sometimes this includes going through the core competencies all over again. Other times, it involves attending specialized training sessions on particular topics.

In general, CHWs should take part in regular training sessions, workshops or seminars to keep themselves informed about new trends and practices in healthcare. This ongoing learning lets them continue to provide the best possible support and care to the people and communities they serve.

Step 5: Provide Cross-Training for Team Members

Once your community health workers are trained, you can start looking at putting other members of your team through the community health worker program.

Having more CHWs in your agency can improve your work. They engage with the community, reach out to people, and help improve their health. But you don’t need to hire new staff. You can use cross-training instead.

Cross-training means training your current employees to take on new roles. This has many benefits. It keeps your staff happy and helps them grow. It also benefits the patients and clients they serve.

In healthcare organizations, cross-training helps improve operations. It increases the ability of non-clinical workers and fills care gaps. When employees can do multiple tasks, it reduces stress and makes things run more smoothly.

Cross-training helps your team understand the important role of CHWs. Sometimes, CHWs are not given enough recognition in healthcare agencies. But when your team learns about their work, they gain respect for them. This helps everyone work together better.

It also promotes teamwork. When different team members can do various tasks, they can support each other in patient care. This collaborative approach leads to better outcomes for the people you serve.

Step 6: Involve Partners in the Community Health Worker Program

Now, think about your partners. Working together with them in the training program has big advantages, such as:

  • Shared Resources: Partner organizations can bring in their own skills, tools, and knowledge, making the training program stronger and more effective. This means CHWs will get a well-rounded and impactful learning experience.
  • Diverse Perspectives: Partners come from different places and backgrounds, so they have unique ideas and experiences to offer. When they join the training, it adds variety and helps CHWs see the bigger picture of community health.
  • Better Coordination: Partner organizations might have access to communities that the main organization hasn’t reached yet. By involving partners, the training program can reach more people and help a larger group of people.
  • Increased Reach: Partner organizations may have access to communities or populations that the primary organization may not have reached yet. By involving partners, the training program can extend its impact to a wider audience.
  • Tapping into Expertise: Partner organizations often have special knowledge and skills in certain areas of healthcare or community support. By involving them, the training program can learn from their expertise and provide CHWs with specialized training.
  • Sustainability: Partnerships can help the CHW training program last for a long time. When multiple organizations share responsibilities and costs, it becomes more sustainable and financially stable over the years.
  • Building Relationships: Partnering with other organizations opens doors for networking and building connections. This can lead to more collaborations and joint projects in the future, even beyond the training program.

The best program is the program that works for you. But if you follow these steps, you’ll be well on your way to creating a long-lasting CHW program that benefits everyone involved.

Ready to start your community health worker program? Contact us for a consultation now.