Does your agency need to connect with members of the community? Do you serve people who need help with healthcare information and services? Do you find there’s a disconnect between your clients or high-risk patients and healthcare, government, and social service systems? Then you could probably benefit from hiring a community health worker (CHW).
The US pays a huge piece of healthcare spending ($550 billion every year), according to Health Affairs. Much of that spending can be saved. Healthcare systems spend money on treating illnesses, rather than preventing them in the first place through addressing the social determinants of health that cause them in the first place.
A solution in some communities is to hire and deploy CHWs, or people with similar titles, such as health advocates, promotores, or peer health educators.
Places like Latin America and Africa have used CHWs for years to great effect. Thankfully, there are more people who are trained and qualified as health workers in this country now. Hiring one for your agency is closer than you might think. If you’re wondering how, here are some answers for you and more, below.
What is a CHW?
CHWs usually come from the communities where they work, and they’re often recruited from the target population. They have a unique rapport with clients and patients.
CHWs work in a variety of places. They might work for local or state health departments or districts. They might work for community- or faith-based agencies. Others might work in clinics, health centers, and hospitals.
What CHWs do
The job a CHW does will vary depending on the goals of your agency. If your agency’s goal is to reduce the incidence of breast cancer among Latino populations, you might hire a promotora who knows about breast cancer screening. If you work for a faith-based organization that wants to help with food insecurity, the CHW’s job duties will be different.
When you understand what you want your CHW to do, then you can set the employment status of your new hires. When hiring a CHW, you can choose to hire them to work a set number of hours ongoing or for a short-term project that lines up with grants.
Why hire a CHW
Some reasons for hiring a CHW include:
- Target socioeconomic and behavioral barriers in special populations
- Reduce hospitalization rates
- Help clients and patients feel safe, secure, and understood by providers and community services
- Increase communication among patients, providers, and other members of a multidisciplinary healthcare team
- Create and maintain relationships of confidence and trust
- Answer client and patient questions about procedures, screenings, and other medical care
How to compensate a CHW
Pay rates for CHWs vary from volunteer to full salary. Some CHWs receive a stipend. Some programs are tied closely to a program and that program’s budget. A CHW targeting an LGBTQ+ community has a narrow focus and zeroes in on health issues among those people.
According to Salary.com, a community health worker in California as of April 2021 is $42,292. The range is between $36,143 and $48,846. In a big state like California with both rural and populous areas, that salary can vary widely.
In comparison, a CHW’s salary in Alabama falls between $30,319 and $40,975 and in Massachusetts, it’s $35,205 to $47,578.
Hours worked vary for CHWs too. They may work full-time, part-time, or split the job in with a partner in a job share. Some work seasonally, such as when a location has more migrant workers, or as part of a pilot program.
When deciding what to pay a CHW, think about the return on investment, which is potentially significant and continues on into the future. For example, think about what unnecessary ER visits and high hospitalization rates cost your facility. If you’re at a community- or faith-based agency, calculate the cost of whatever your program addresses.
How hiring a CHW works
When hiring, it’s not always clear if you should look close to where you are or further to bring in new talent. There are pluses and minuses to each strategy. Usually, a mix of strategies will give you the best results. Here’s a closer look at a few helpful ways to hire health workers.
Recruiting a CHW might be as simple as looking around you. You may already have staff who have a close relationship with your target community, who are natural connectors, who have a solid understanding of your agency, and who have some of the necessary skills.
Internal recruitment has the advantage of being inexpensive. Relying on supervisors and managers for referrals means you can bypass expensive recruiting agencies. You can also skip past internal onboarding practices and other compliance training and instead focus your training budget on core competencies training.
Recruiting from within the organization also means that you can move quickly. There’s no job posting or extensive interview and review period, and background checks are usually already completed. You can also ask other managers for reviews, recommendations and a summary of what they like about the employee.
External recruitment can be a big help if you’re looking for someone who’s a specialized CHW or has an understanding of a community you’re having trouble reaching. This strategy has its benefits too, including:
- A fresh perspective on your program and a population
- New ideas they learned from outside agencies
- Better skill sets, such as language skills or understanding of a health topic like breast cancer screening, that you might not have internally
You can post a job using the standard recruiting avenues you use for your other hires: the website, job board, administrative staffing agency, referrals, LinkedIn.
You can also appeal to partners, who might have a better network of candidates. Check in with agencies and organizations that are in the community where the CHW will be working, including churches, clinics, and local businesses. Your area might also have a CHW association that accepts job postings.
Hiring a CHW that’s reliable and will make a difference at your agency and the community is a big investment, but one that’s likely to pay off. More awareness of what CHWs do means there are more CHWs on the market. Following these tips will help you make the process as easy and efficient as possible.