The national shortage of healthcare professionals has been growing for years. We’re headed for even more shortages. And the same can be said for CHW teams.
In the first two months of the COVID-19 pandemic, about 1.5 million healthcare jobs for were lost when clinics and hospitals closed or stopped offering services. Most services have resumed around the country, but employment is still below where it was before the pandemic began, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
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Where Are These People Needed Most?
It’s especially a big problem in low-income and at-risk communities, where the need for healthcare is greatest. This is where community health workers (CHWs) excel at what they do. A robust community health program largely depends on the team that’s in contact with patients. After all, the CDC defines a community health worker as, “trained public health workers who serve as a bridge between communities, health care systems, and state health departments.”
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there are currently 7.2 billion people living on Earth. That means there are roughly 3.4 million new people born every day. However, only 2.7 million physicians and 1.9 million nurses work in healthcare facilities worldwide. This leaves a huge gap between the number of people who need medical attention and the number of people with the skills needed to deliver that care.
Remember that turnover rates among healthcare professionals are some of the highest in any industry. And the extra stress of work-from-home situations, hybrid models, and health challenges for at-risk communities only add up to what’s already a challenging situation: Finding talented CHWs that can serve your patients and improve access to life-saving care.
Why Is This Problem So Important?
A big reason is that the coronavirus pandemic is not gone, even though many governments and agencies have resumed activities to 2019 levels. The pandemic is now endemic—and sick people, people with long COVID problems and others affected by illness and death are increasing in numbers.
For example, a study of 1.5 million COVID patients 2 years post-infection revealed an increased risk of:
- psychotic disorder
- cognitive deficit
- epilepsy or seizures
Vaccines can help. Shipments around the US have increased. They’re available to everyone, but there aren’t enough people to distribute them in many communities.
Medical and public health systems are struggling to rebuild and build up their workforces. This is a tricky prospect. Healthcare systems are under pressure to provide better care at a lower cost. As a result, governments are looking for ways to reduce costs while improving quality.
One solution is to use non-physician providers such as CHWs, as well as nurse practitioners, physician assistants, pharmacists and other allied health professionals. These providers play an increasingly important role in delivering primary care services.
Who Can Help?
If you’re interested in helping to address this problem in your community, consider hiring or training CHWs.
But how do you find top-quality health workers in a labor shortage? Here are some factors to consider when you’re recruiting community health workers where you work.
Focus on Attracting the Right CHW Talent
The first step in staffing a community health program is to search for candidates in the right places. To find the best possible CHW talent, it’s crucial to consider what your community’s needs are. Whether you’re targeting LGBTQ+ youth or working with elderly immigrants, you’ll want someone whose values and skills line up.
When it comes to actually finding candidates, you’ll want to start on the ground. First, consider anyone who’s already working for the community’s good. Community health workers’ biggest strength is their cultural relevance — they belong to the communities they serve. This gives them a unique understanding of the whole context rather than isolated health facts. You can consult with local leaders if there’s someone who’s exceptionally good at making connections or already serving as an aid for those in need.
Alternatively, talk to faith-based organizations, NGOs, nonprofits, and other teams working in the area. They may be able to point the way. Or attend events like local health fairs, sporting events, or similar community gatherings that could attract local talent.
Finally, connect with job banks, employment offices, or educational agencies like CHWTraining or your local community college. Through them, you may find suitable candidates with relative ease.
Invest in CHW training — and include it in your job posts
It’s no secret that education is expensive. Especially for roles like community health workers, who need certifications, industry training, and to refresh their skills regularly, on-the-job training is an attractive incentive. It also helps remove the barrier for those who may not be able to afford education on their own but have an innate talent for the service.
Employ Retention Strategies to Hold On to Your Community Health Worker Talent
Turnover is already a challenge for CHW agencies, with Health Leads USA citing up to 50% turnover for community health workers in a year. Once you’ve hired and trained your star team, it’s time to focus on retention. Retention strategies for CHWs are similar to other organizations: Growth paths, professional development opportunities, and workplace culture are crucial to holding on to your talent.
Offering comprehensive professional development plans is the first step to retaining your staff. A professional development plan should include a mix of the skills your CHW will need to succeed at their job in your agency along with the tools they’ll need to advance in their career. To achieve a good balance, it’s worth setting a roadmap that clearly outlines the available paths and how they can get closer to them.
Another key element of employee retention is engagement. How do your CHWs feel in the workspace? Are they able to voice their concerns and feel heard? Do they get regular reviews and receive timely feedback? While many managers struggle with giving feedback, it is a crucial skill to develop.
How Do We Fix This?
The labor shortage is not easy to fix, but start thinking about how to do so. One thing we should do as a nation is make sure that everyone has access to healthcare, no matter who they are or where they live. That means providing universal coverage for medical care, dental care, vision care, prescription drugs, and mental health services.
Why Is This Important?
We also need to think about how to train more people to become doctors, nurses and community healthcare workers. We need to provide better education and training opportunities for these professionals. Need help? Read How To Train Your Team to Be CHWs and Steps for Success. Or, schedule a free consultation to learn how you can train CHWs in your area with CHWTraining
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