If you work with a program that uses community health workers (CHWs), promotores, community health representatives (CHRs), or similar health advocates, does this mission sound familiar?
“We bridge divides by bringing people together: connecting individuals and organizations to help communities tackle their toughest challenges.”
You might think you’re reading about your team. But this is the mission of an AmeriCorps member.
AmeriCorps Member Vs. CHW
A community health worker is a frontline public health worker who is also a trusted member of a community. In fact, many of them work and live among the community of clients they serve. Likewise, they work with healthcare and community agencies to connect patients and clients with providers, nurses, insurance information, and other resources to manage their health.
Similarly, AmeriCorps members “engage in direct service activities, such as after-school tutoring or homebuilding, and capacity-building activities, such as volunteer recruitment, for the organizations they serve.”
The skills of both AmeriCorps members and trained CHWs are ideal for growing health programs in communities across the US, as both are dedicated to reaching remote populations and reducing health disparities. Plus, both could address people with chronic diseases like diabetes, or substance use, such as the opioid crisis.
Funding Source for CHWs
Nationwide, thousands of individuals volunteer with AmeriCorps. California, for example, has 58 AmeriCorps programs with over 4000 members serving 1000+ locations.
Moreover, they leverage almost $82 million in funding, which is attractive for health and public health agencies sourcing funding for CHW programs.
For example, MercyOne in Clive, IA, welcomes AmeriCorps members into their CHW program. To do so, they recently received $160,000 to train eight AmeriCorps members as CHWs to serve nearby communities and the MercyOne Des Moines Medical Center emergency department.
“AmeriCorps grants are awarded on a competitive basis to projects that support organizational capacity-building, education, healthy futures, environmental stewardship, veterans and military families, economic opportunities, public safety, disaster preparedness/response, and other identified community issues in Iowa. MercyOne is one of just 19 programs to receive funding for the 2021-2022 program year,” reads a press release on the MercyOne website.
In this case, the commission identified significant health disparities caused by chronic diseases and opioid misuse in Appalachia. So they devised a program to train AmeriCorps as CHWs who connect residents to health services and education.
Fortunately, the positive results convinced skeptics at federally qualified health centers who were hesitant about additional care services. According to a report:
From October 2018 to the present, 10 AmeriCorps members have been trained as community health workers, serving Ohio and West Virginia.
As a result of the program, community members have reported weight loss, an increase in physical activity, reduction in medication, improvements in self-management of chronic diseases, and a deeper understanding about their health conditions.
Care coordination efforts specifically for diabetes have helped reduce A1C percentages by an average of 2 points per patient.
CHW Skills for Training AmeriCorps Members
Do AmeriCorps members sound right for your CHW program? If so, here’s how to build their skills.
Firstly, CHW training for new AmeriCorps members should follow general requirements in your state. For example, some states have specific requirements for certification, while others have none, and some are voluntary. To read more about your location, download a copy of these skills in the Core Competencies Resources Guide.
Secondly, you’ll need CHW core competency training, which include:
1. Advocacy Skills
- Connect clients with the right health care
- Involve the community in clients’ issues by promoting causes and using existing resources
- Educate community members, legislators, the media and other professionals or organizations about clients’ issues
- Use social media as an advocacy platform
2. Community Outreach and Engagement
- Build and strengthen communities
- Educate community members about programs and services that benefit them using community outreach
- Understand various populations and how to communicate with them
- Understand the needs of different populations
- Learn to build collaborative relationships with colleagues and partners
3. Communication Skills
- Learn about the different ways we communicate, including verbally and non-verbally
- Use active and empathetic communication skills
- Look out for and overcome barriers to communication
- Be a clearer communicator, both when speaking and when writing
- Connect clients to resources in their language, including medical interpreters and translated documents
4. Promoting Healthy Lifestyles/Healthy Eating Active Living (HEAL)
- Inform clients about the benefits of healthy eating and physical activity
- Help clients manage or even avoid chronic illness by adopting healthy lifestyle habits
- Improve health outcomes
- Strengthen community linkages
- Overcome barriers to healthy choices in environments, including food insecurity and other limitations
5. Cultural Competence and Responsiveness
- Understand the role culture plays in a person’s health, including behaviors, language, customs, beliefs, and perspectives
- Learn culturally appropriate and respectful ways of communicating
- Use empathy to connect with people who come from various backgrounds
- Deliver health care services that meet the social, cultural, and linguistic needs of patients to avoid health disparities
- Build relationships with partners and colleagues to deliver culturally and linguistically appropriate services
6. Service Coordination Skills
- Improve collaboration among team members
- Appreciate the importance of support roles in case management
- Learn to leverage community resources in patient care
- Become an effective liaison with sources outside the community
- Effectively manage cases from first instance to follow-up
7. Individual and Assessment Skills
- Develop a keen understanding of contextual factors in assessing individuals within your community
- Discover formal assessment methods to get actively involved in community initiatives
- Feel confident designing, implementing, and interpreting individual assessments, including home evaluations
- Learn to design, implement, and interpret community-wide assessments and initiatives
- Help teams channel define unique needs within the community
8. Health Insurance Basics
- Understand the local health insurance landscape
- Help patients successfully navigate the intricacies of health insurance
- Connect community members with the resources that best serve their needs and the key role preventive services play in long-term health
- Provide accurate information about the types of insurance and the medical services available to the community, as well as potential costs
- Inform the legal and technical aspects of the healthcare industry
9. Teaching Skills
- Improve the ability to break complex topics into manageable information
- Collect pertinent health information from and for community members
- Plan and conduct health classes for varied audiences
- Use cultural context to bring accurate, relevant information to community members
- Measure community members’ understanding in key health issues to help predict outcomes
10. Organizational Skills
- Organize schedules, shifts, and reporting on team members and priorities to maintain clear communication with supervisors or the work team
- Plan goals for individuals and the organization, taking priorities, budget, and other aspects into account
- Establish a safe space for coworkers with open, clear communication
- Take charge of event organization, both internal and external (workshops, outreach efforts, educational presentations, and more)
- Oversee project development and ensure that priorities and objectives are being met
11. Community Capacity Building
- Help team and community members explore their capacities
- Empower the community to make conscious choices
- Build connections, support, and allyship within communities
- Help individuals advocate for themselves through empowerment and education
- Lead community initiatives confidently, as well as identify local leaders and provide them with support
12. Professional Conduct and Interpersonal Skills
- Learn to manage time, resources, and priorities on an individual basis while balancing stressors
- Assess situations and determine risk factors and potential solutions
- Utilize the available resources to their best potential, including technology, assessment tools, and more
- Adhere to ethical and standards including codes of ethics, laws, bills, and other institutional guidelines
- Assume professional education and self-improvement as a pillar for personal development
13. Public Health
- Develop a deep understanding of the public health structure
- Understand the role and responsibilities that fall on CHW’s shoulders as frontline health workers
- Identify challenges and opportunities in communities by addressing the four pillars of public health
- Combine theoretical knowledge and culturally relevant experience to understand public health on a local scale
- Dive into the complex nature and root causes of some of today’s biggest health challenges, and explore how these affect healthcare services and populations
Specialization Skills For Americorps Volunteers
In addition, once you’ve built a foundation in core competencies, it’s time to provide relevant specialized training to your AmeriCorps members.
For instance, many CHWs and AmeriCorps members work with disease self-management. So specialized skills can include topics like social support, cancer screenings, medication adherence, and stress management.
In contrast, other programs focus on the specific needs of a community. This is the case of the Ohio and West Virginia AmeriCorps CHWs, who received specialized training to provide substance use and chronic illness support:
- Peer recovery support specialist certification
- Chronic disease/diabetes self-management classes
- Chronic Pain Self-management
- Conducting safe home visits
- Motivational interviewing
- Screening, Brief Intervention and Referral to Treatment (SBIRT)
- Transitional care
AmeriCorps in Every State
AmeriCorps can be an important onramp for any program that’s looking to use CHWs to support community members. Especially in areas with no CHW or similar association or much support for such a program, especially when you consider that every state in the US has an AmeriCorps program.
To start, reach out to your local health center and AmeriCorps office to ask for advice in bringing CHWs to your agency, as it can be a valuable resource for paying for positions and starting a program.
*Rural Health Information Hub, 2019. AmeriCorps Community Health Workers Program [online]. Rural Health Information Hub. Available at: https://www.ruralhealthinfo.org/project-examples/808 [Accessed 22 September 2021]