Community health workers are essential frontline workers helping connect at-risk populations with the preventive health services they need to lead happy, healthy lives. In Michigan, CHWs take into account factors like social context, language barriers, and common behaviors to address healthcare with a culturally-sensitive approach. They’re a trusted authority in the community because they’re first and foremost, a peer who has access to information and resources that can improve life quality for entire communities.
A community health worker breaks down complicated concepts into actionable steps to prevent and help manage diseases. They also act as a liaison between patients and the healthcare system, including providing services like translation/interpretation, transportation, and insurance navigation.
Ahead, we’ll explore the most common titles for CHWs in Michigan as well as the core competencies required to practice as a community health worker in the state.
Community Health Worker Titles in Michigan
Community health workers are often called by many different names, some of which include the following:
- Promotor de salud, public health worker, lay health worker, outreach worker, outreach specialist.
- Community health advocate, community health representative, community health promoter, community connector, community health outreach worker, community health advisor, community health educator, community care coordinator.
- Peer educator, peer support worker, peer health promoter, lay health educator, lay health advisor, neighborhood health advisor.
- Casework aide, health aide (or community health aide), public health aide, environmental health aide, patient navigator, family support worker.
CHW Certification Requirements in Michigan
The state of Michigan doesn’t require a certification to practice as a community health worker.
However, core competencies training and field experience are valuable assets for anyone hoping to enter the CHW field.
Community Health Worker Core Competencies to Practice in Michigan
1. Public Health and Health Systems
One of the biggest hurdles for at-risk and remote populations is timely access to doctors and treatment. This is especially true for those with public insurance or no insurance as they’re at the mercy of medical professionals and bureaucracy. Furthermore, without proper insurance, many at-risk patients simply can’t afford treatment. So community health workers need a comprehensive understanding of the workings of insurance and bureaucracy to help patients navigate them successfully. This understanding needs to be state-based, as a Michigan CHW will face different challenges than those in other parts of the country.
It’s also crucial for CHWs to understand the scope and limits of their practice within the healthcare system and adhere to them at all times.
2. Legal and Ethical Responsibilities
As with any career within the healthcare system, CHWs have strict guidelines. Therefore, they need to be familiar with federal, state, and local laws; codes of conduct; ethics; confidentiality (such as HIPAA); and agency policies. Otherwise, they risk liability and put their program in danger.
3. Community Resources
CHWs face many challenges on a community level. Above all, each community is unique, dealing with issues from food insecurity to oral health disparities. Thus, a successful community health worker is one that understands these circumstances and weaves them into their approach to community health.
In order to serve the Michigan population with the resources at their disposal, a CHW needs:
- Intentional Client Engagement: How can I help these people take the steps to improve their health?
- Critical Thinking: What resources are available and how do they fulfill the population’s needs?
- Networking Skills: Whom could I connect to in order to develop a successful, comprehensive approach to this community’s needs? What local organizations can satisfy a demand (ie, preventive screenings, vaccination efforts, or treatment)?
- Health Promotion: What can I teach the community about healthy living that’s achievable with their current circumstances?
- Home Visiting: How are their living conditions impacting their health? And how can we make it better?
4. Communication Styles and Cultural Responsiveness
CHWs are in constant contact with patients, partners, agencies, and the healthcare system. So they need communication skills for each setting:
- Active listening.
- Cultural sensitivity.
- Conflict resolution.
- Motivational interviewing.
- Translating culture-specific behaviors.
5. Teaching and Capacity Building
A big part of a CHW’s role is education. So they need to be able to turn complicated health information into simple steps for patients to achieve a healthier lifestyle.
6. Coordination, Documentation, & Reporting
As liaisons, CHWs can coordinate services for clients. Providing services like transportation to and from remote health centers is essential for patients who might not be able to make it otherwise. Filling out forms, documenting the case, and explaining medical terminology is also vital for follow-up.
7. Healthy Lifestyles
CHWs often deal with chronic illnesses like high blood pressure. Along with disease management, their role includes prevention, so it’s crucial for them to foster healthy habits in their community. For instance, your CHW could teach health habits including:
- Nutrition and healthy eating, even in the face of food insecurity.
- Physical activity as a tool to manage stress, improve chronic illnesses, and prevent health issues.
- Sleep as a fundamental factor of well-being.
- Medication adherence for patients with chronic conditions.
- Oral health care.
8. Behavioral Health, Substance Use, & Disorders
Substance use is often influenced by social determinants. It’s also one of the behaviors that can significantly impact long-term health.
Community health workers need a thorough understanding of the incidence, impact, and risk factors of behavioral health in order to prevent the issues commonly derived from addiction (violence, diseases, and overdoses, to name a few).
CHWs are not trained as mental health professionals. However, a CHW in Michigan can identify the symptoms and connect the patient and their family to the resources they need.