The number of community health workers nationally is on the rise. Many agencies have discovered that these community health specialists are the key to reaching people who are often left out of traditional healthcare. And program directors are eager to have CHWs work in their teams.
The positive results of working with CHWs—and promotores, health advisors, community care managers, and similar—are clear. A recent study shows that working with a team of CHWs can lower emergency department visits (5%), drop hospitalizations (12.6%), and add up to a net savings of $1,135 per patient. The study showed that each CHW generated a net savings of $170,213 every year.
It’s no wonder why you’d like to hire a CHW or cross-train your internal team to be CHWs in this growing field. But you might be wondering where CHWs work, and if they’d be a good match for your organization. You might want to improve the health outcomes of your community no matter if you work in a clinic, a neighborhood, or a faith-based group. Do CHWs fit there?
The short answer is, “Yes!” CHWs anywhere have a similar role to link people with health and social services to improve the quality of care, but they work in many settings. They work wherever they live, including in rural areas, urban settings, and major metropolitan hubs. They work in borders and tribal communities in AI/AN nations. The most common employers of CHWs according to the BLS are:
|Individual and family services||17|
|Religious, grantmaking, civic, professional, and similar organizations||14|
|Hospitals; state, local, and private||8|
|Outpatient care centers||8|
Keep reading to learn seven specific work environments where CHWs are often employed.
7 Places Where CHWs Work
- State and local governments
- Clinics and hospitals
- Outpatient care centers
- Insurance companies
- Nursing care facilities
- Nonprofit groups
- Faith- and community-based groups
Many local governments (states, counties, and cities) employ CHWs. Many state governments are also responsible for creating programs and providing training so CHWs can move on to work in other areas.
Government agencies and efforts like Accountable Communities of Health (ACHs) are often dedicated to reducing the incidence of chronic health issues. They match up CHWs with prevention programs where they can be effective, particularly among low-income populations.
CHWs typically form part of the care team at clinics, hospitals, and primary care agencies. They’re assigned a client and visit them at home to coordinate clinic visits and create health management goals that promote self-management of disease and prevention.
Agencies use CHWs to help high-risk and high-needs patients. These patients sometimes go into the ER or hospital when they don’t need to. CHWs can address the social determinants of health that might be influencing them.
CHWs are key team members in outpatient care centers including behavioral health centers, hospital facilities dedicated to ambulatory procedures (X-rays, testing and examinations, and more), and other non-emergency care centers.
Some of the tasks a CHW can perform at an outpatient care center include facilitate communication if there are language barriers, help patients through the check-in process (filling forms, obtaining relevant medical information), and care coordination (pre- and post-visit, including transportation arrangements and access to other resources).
CHWs are the primary point of contact between a patient and the insurance company. They often go above and beyond providing strictly medical care to patients. They help guarantee the patients’ access to the care they need in order to improve their health outcomes. This, in turn, means lower patient-related costs for the healthcare system.
One of the main roles of CHWs in insurance companies is to help their community access medical care. CHWs can work with patients by:
- Advising them on healthcare and insurance plans
- Assisting in the signup process (forms and requirements, medical history, and beyond)
- Helping them access timely care
CHWs are in a unique position to support patients in nursing care facilities, including elderly, those with chronic illnesses, or others needing long-term care. They share an understanding of the patient’s background in a way other healthcare workers don’t.
In a nursing home, CHWs can assist patients in securing treatment, advocating for proper care, arranging medical visits (including transportation, scheduling appointments, and even communication with the patient’s family), and functioning as caseworkers in the facility, monitoring changes and overall well being of the patient.
CHWs are often employed in nonprofit groups (NGOs) as a bridge between communities and health systems and other systems of care.
Some of the tasks CHWs perform for nonprofits include community outreach, widespread screenings, vaccination coordination, peer educator services, home visits, chronic illness management, and more.
Local and international organizations rely on CHWs to reach target populations and provide the preventive care and treatment the community needs. In fact, even if you’re not familiar with CHWs, you’ve likely seen their work in low-income communities and even countries. Vaccination programs in Africa are a good example.
The cultural background of CHWs and their community is an added bonus when it comes to serving in local initiatives. This is the case for religious groups, grassroots organizations like youth centers, and other similar initiatives.
CHWs are invaluable team members because of their closeness to the community they serve. Shared experiences, a common upbringing, and cultural sensitivity set CHWs apart and enable them to create deep bonds with their patients and clients.
These seven options are just a few of the places CHWs work. Many communities have creative projects that benefit from working with CHWs. No matter where they work, it’s a good idea to make sure your CHWs have been properly trained. Some states offer CHW certification, and there is a consensus of core competencies in most areas.