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10 skills CHWs can learn right now—without leaving the couch

Use at-home time to brush up on existing skills or pick up some new ones.

The now-global spread of coronavirus is affecting everyone. This disease has brought a host of medical, economic, and political problems. It’s brought all of us—CHWs, supervisors, program managers, clients, and patients alike–a ton of uncertainty and anxiety. This can have an enormous impact on everyone’s emotional and physical wellbeing.

Whenever you’re feeling unsure and anxious about the things you can’t control, it can be helpful to focus on the things you can control, such as your education. While you or your staff might be stuck at home or in a quiet facility, the Internet is still on. So rather than panic-scrolling through social media feeds about toilet paper, put that energy into picking up some new skills or improving the ones you already have.

[Related: The 27 New Skills You Can Now Learn on CHWTraining]

10 Skills CHWs Can Learn from Home

They say there is no such thing as useless knowledge. These 10 skills are definitely worth learning—and learning them can make time based at home time well spent. In the future, these skills form a great workforce development path and can make each CHW a better worker.

  1. Meditation and mindfulness techniques
  2. Depression, Anxiety and Stress
  3. COVID-19
  4. Smoking cessation
  5. Chronic illness
  6. Immunizations
  7. Motivational Interviewing interventions
  8. Healthy cooking
  9. Hand hygiene
  10. Language

1. Meditation and mindfulness techniques

Relaxation and mindfulness are skills that can help you in your personal and professional life—especially now when everything feels uncertain. Mindfulness practices can help people manage stress, deal with serious illness, and reduce anxiety and depression, according to the NIH. These are helpful skills to pass on to clients, employees, and the people around you.

“The most important thing to know when starting a meditation or mindfulness practice is that there is no right or wrong way to ‘do’ it,” says Laura Wells, a facilitator and coach who works with individuals, teams, and organizations to increase focus and build compassionate leadership.

“It is simply about learning to relax into the present moment — there’s nothing we have to, or can, ‘do’ to make the present moment happen. This is about allowing the space for a minute or two or five to not be in charge of what’s occurring. Simply breathing and bringing attention to what is already here in our experience.”

If you want to practice now, you can join Wells for a free 30-minute virtual meditation and connection session Tuesday, Mar 24, 2020, 12:10 PM Pacific Time. Click here to join and use meeting ID: 144 588 211.

2. Depression, Anxiety and Stress


Nearly everyone is feeling depression, anxiety, and stress right now, so it helps you and anyone you work with if you can pick up management skills. Start by recognizing the symptoms of depression from the National Institute of Mental Health.

Then what to do if you see them in yourself or in another. This guide will help you understand when it’s time to make a behavioral health referral.

Supervisors and program managers supporting a community health team with limited resources can easily feel overwhelmed. You have to think about self-care strategies to share, how to help them control stress, and spot signs of burnout and compassion fatigue.

Sign up for Supporting Mental Wellness in CHW Teams, a free on-demand session on improving your team’s mental wellness, identify signs that an employee is at risk for depression, anxiety, or secondary trauma, and show you how you can help your team improve their personal and professional lives.

3. COVID-19

If you’re looking to learn more about coronavirus, then the WHO is the place to start for any health professional. The OpenWHO Massive Online Open Courses for COVID-19 provide learning resources for health professionals, decision-makers, and the public. As the pandemic continues to evolve, new resources will be added, additional language versions will continue to be rolled out, and existing courses will be updated to best reflect the changing context. Some sample courses are “Operational Planning Guidelines to Support Country Preparedness and Response” and “Infection Prevention and Control.”

4. Smoking cessation and vaping


People with unhealthy lungs are particularly at risk for complications from coronavirus, and many other health issues. Learning about these risks can help you talk clearly to clients who smoke. There’s plenty of new information regarding severe lung disease associated with using vaping devices and e-cigarette products, so now is a time to learn about that, especially among youth.

“There are many websites, webinars and listserves available for folks to learn the latest on commercial tobacco and vaping,” Says Norilyn de la Peña, Cessation and Outreach Project Manager at Public Health — Seattle & King County. It’s important to seek resources that are credible. People want information on what vaping products are how to have effective conversations about their use. She suggests learning about these tobacco cessation and vaping education topics for all providers:

  • What the products are and how they are used
  • Why it’s important to keep flavored tobacco and nicotine from youth (affects on brain and lung development, increase chance of addiction, increase likelihood of tobacco use, etc.)
  • Media literacy and tobacco and vape marketing intentionally target low-income communities
  • The importance of sharing valid information from appropriate online resources
  • How to talk to young people about vaping
  • Alternatives to nicotine and tobacco use; positive stress management and coping skills
  • What resources are available

She recommends the following general resources:

  • Truth Initiative
  • AAP (American Academy of Pediatrics)
  • SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration)
  • SCLC (Smoking Cessation Leadership Center)

Public Health — Seattle & King County’s website has Lung disease related to vaping and e-cigarette use. It has an excellent collection of materials, templates, and FAQs for providers, partners, and schools on understanding vaping and how it affects the lungs.

5. Chronic illness

CHWs are vital to successfully managing and avoiding chronic illnesses such as diabetes, heart disease, breast cancer, and cervical cancer. Since CHWs are health brokers who can connect providers with communities, take some time to learn more about the chronic diseases in your community and how CHWs can help.

If you’re a program manager or administrator new to CHWs, do some deep reading on building the policies and systems that support CHWs to see how they fit in with your organization. Start with the excellent document “Addressing Chronic Disease Through Community Health Workers: A Policy and Systems-Level Approach,” (PDF) from the CDC. Then take some time to watch Examining Community Health Worker Models in Managing Chronic Conditions.

If you’re a CHW, you can learn how chronic illness and mental health are closely linked. This video Ask an Expert – Depression and Chronic Illness Webinar (1:19) explores the relationship between depression and Nephrotic Syndrome, specifically, but the topic relates to people living with many chronic diseases.

CHWs can also save on CHWTraining’s chronic illness bundle. It helps you master working with clients with breast cancer (Breast Cancer Screening), cervical cancer (Cervical Cancer Screening and HPV), Diabetes and Prediabetes, and High Blood Pressure (Hypertension). Along the way, you’ll learn how to screen for disease, talk to clients, and connect to resources in your agency and community.

6. Immunizations


Parents and individuals are too reluctant to get vaccines, thanks in part to too much mistaken information. Patient education is an important way to let people know that vaccinations have an excellent safety record and are an important part of preventing serious diseases. A simple flu shot, covered by many health plans, is the best way for people to protect themselves and their children from getting the influenza.

The AAP is an excellent resource for educating parents and any individual on immunizations. It includes the recommended immunization schedule, information for parents, and communication tips for the conversations you’ll have with parents.

7. Motivational Interviewing interventions

Motivational interviewing (MI) is a technique you can use to help people discover their own reasons for positive change in a non-confrontational way. It was originally developed as a way to help people quit smoking, but MI techniques can be used for helping people make any kind of behavioral change.

Demonstration and practice are the best ways to learn and improve your MI skills, so spend some time reviewing some sample intervention videos, such as these:

8. Healthy cooking


Nutrition and health are closely related, from a healthy diet helping children grow up to avoid chronic diseases to managing—and maybe even reversing—conditions like diabetes. Learning healthy cooking is an excellent skill you can pass on to your clients, and your own family.

Try My Doctor – Kaiser Permanente, which has many how-to videos, ranging from short-and-sweet lessons like Add Flavor Without Salt (2:33) for hypertension, to Tips for Cooking Healthier (2:01), to in-depth webinars like Fresh Food Ideas (1:01:00) for parents.

9. Hygiene

Time to get serious about hand hygiene. Learn, demonstrate, repeat.

10. Language

Communication is a key skill for CHWs, and being able to speak and understand more than English helps. Learning a foreign language, such as Spanish for English-speakers or English for Spanish-speakers, is a great way to unlock better employment options and connect clients to resources.

Smart phone apps like Duolingo are great vocabulary builders, and you can do them whenever you have a few free minutes. Another fun one is Lirica, which matches language with pop music. It takes the music from such musicians as Enrique Iglesias and turns it into Spanish vocabulary and grammar lessons.

Keep building skills

Just reading a PDF or a PowerPoint presentation isn’t enough to really learn. Practice your skills as soon as you can. Keep refreshing your skills once you’ve learned something. Bookmark this page so you can keep revisiting these resources and keep them fresh.

How I Started a Community Health Initiative and How It Can Make Your Clients Healthier

Finding fitness, friendship, and lifestyle change on the road to community health

By Eliana Ifill

One of the hardest parts of doing physical activity is finding the confidence and motivation to start. It’s intimidating to make a big life change, and it can be easier to push it to the side.

People like community health workers (CHWs) and promotoras know how limiting this is. They see how older people and those who stay home live in isolation unless they take an intentional approach to improving their social lives. Inactivity can lead to all sorts of health problems, according to the American Heart Association, including heart disease, high blood pressure, obesity, stroke, type 2 diabetes, depression, cancers—and more. Active living is a topic we cover in many of the elearning courses at CHWTraining.

Public spaces also take a hit when individuals stay home: parks and streets are empty, and smaller roads can be neglected by local authorities. This makes it even harder for community members to step outside and take charge of their health.

[Related Community Engagement the Right Way with Outreach Skills]

In my case, I live near an industrial area. It was bustling with activity during business hours. But come 5 p.m. the roads were empty, the lights didn’t work, and the police had long left the streets.

Collaborating for an Active Community

I had come home to Venezuela after living in the U.S. for a while and didn’t have a steady job or other activities where I could meet people. This, combined with some personal challenges, made me start thinking about forming a fitness group of some sort. After all, I’ve been involved in one sport or another since college. Integrating physical activity as part of my daily life has always been important to me. And the lack of activity mixed with all the life changes and all the time spent at home was really taking a toll on my mental health.

I ran into (pun intended) another neighbor with a similar idea: She and her husband had made drastic lifestyle changes, and along with a friend they decided to try and promote sports in our small community.

I found them on Twitter and we decided to try forming a community running group design a short route around our neighborhood. We started very small–just the four of us–and soon, a lot of neighbors started joining us to run three times a week.


Eliana’s running group after a run.

How success spread across the community

We found that the safety and comfort provided by group activities helps keep people accountable while they build a habit for themselves, especially in older communities. Running with others is a powerful motivator.

Group activity like ours helps neighbors connect over shared interests; bond in new, meaningful ways; and regain confidence, purpose, and happiness in their lives.

My running group reached close to 80 people running together on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Sundays.

The demographics were wildly varied: there were a few of us in our early 20s, some in their mid-40s, and quite a few in their 60s and 70s. The younger ones often led the pack, going back and forth on our routes ensuring everyone was OK and no one was left behind.

And we had some experts: A trainer who led our warmups and HIIT classes on the weekends; a hiker who led our expeditions through the nearby mountains, and some yoga instructors. There was one man, Manuel, who worked in security for our community association and coordinated the team’s safety throughout the route, reminding everyone to bring reflective clothing, carrying radios and flashlights, and always counting heads before we left and after coming back.

We gathered local support and had police escorts on our routes, made T-shirts for the group, showed up in some radio interviews, and worked locally with churches and other initiatives.


Eliana’s running group in the orange T-shirts they had made.

Of course, the physical benefits were great. It was especially exciting to see those over 50 finishing their first races, shaving off minutes between 10ks, trying out yoga and hiking for the first time.

Many of the participants remain active to date (the group started in 2015 and Venezuela’s crisis made many of the original members move to other countries). Many of us remain close friends. We celebrated birthdays, went to theaters, had holiday parties, and supported each other through races and beyond.

More than simply exercising, we’d built a community based on friendship and common goals.

Skills to Motivate Lifestyle Change

CHWs and promotoras who work in neighborhoods that don’t lend themselves to physical activity can follow my lead and still make a difference. Training programs can provide the key skills they need to make meaningful change, especially among clients with chronic illnesses or high utilizers of emergency rooms.

[Related Build Skills in These 3 Areas To Stop Diabetes Killing People]

It helps to understand how healthy eating and active living (HEAL) programs fit into health conditions like HIV/AIDS, diabetes, heart disease, and others. But to build a program that can lead to community change, here are some of the most important skill-building courses any agency should provide to their staff:

Promoting Healthy Lifestyles

Practicing healthy behaviors has a huge effect on a person’s life. Knowing the concepts behind maintaining a well-balanced and healthy lifestyle is the place to begin to work with clients to make positive changes and mange their life. The knowledge of what a healthy lifestyle is, including nutrition, fitness, preventative healthcare, and behavioral health, helps learners instruct clients on how to make a change for the better.

Community Outreach and Engagement

Outreach is the most essential part of building and strengthening communities so the people who live in them can take advantage of everything available. By learning the basic concepts and skills in community outreach, as well as strategies such as community needs assessments, learners can promote and even create better health services.

Advocacy Skills

Advocacy Skills demonstrates ways to use advocacy to connect people to the most important resources in organizations, but also externally. They also learn how to involve the community at large in clients’ issues, educate community members, use media and social media, and organize change.

Motivational Interviewing: Peer Support for Behavior Change

Before anyone changes their health, they must want to. Training in Motivational Interviewing helps people find the lasting motivation to improve their health internally. These skills are especially useful for promoting healthy lifestyle changes, managing chronic diseases, and setting goals.

Behavioral Health Care

Physical activity has a close relationship with mental health. Understanding this relationship, as well as what the most common behavioral health conditions are, can help clients find resources and build external structures that help them improve.

Eliana Ifill is a content manager at CHWTraining.

What Supervisors Can Do To Support Mental Wellness of CHW Teams

Anyone supervising a community health worker team knows how important it is to support clients with depression, anxiety or other behavioral health issues.

What they might not realize is that their own staff might be feeling the same as their clients.

We’re taking a closer look at the negative effects of feelings of depression, anxiety, burnout and compassion fatigue on CHW staff at the Unity Conference 2019, which I’m previewing on March 26 with co-presenter Jeanine Joy, Ph.D. We’ll offer some solutions and strategies managers and supervisors can share with their team.


Burnout and mental disorders in CHWs

Why CHWs Feel Overwhelmed

CHWs create strong bonds with clients and report that they feel fulfilled by their jobs. However, CHWs are often called on to respond to mental health crises, but they might not have the training to handle it. They could be overworked and become discouraged when a relationship they build with a client ends. When they take on too much, they run the risk of depression, anxiety, burnout and compassion fatigue. When their mental wellness is at risk, so is your program.

“CHWs are often lauded for their ability to develop trust with peers, yet this willingness and ability to create enduring emotional bonds could threaten programme delivery,” says a study published in BMC Health Services Research.

In fact, community-based health workers are more likely to have problems with depression and mental health issues than the other members of their health care team.

Supervisor Training Gaps

In the process of developing three new modules for CHWTraining’s catalog (Depression and Anxiety, Motivational Interviewing and Supervisor Training), we immediately noticed some troubling trends:

  • Supervisors lack general training for managing teams of CHWs.
  • Supervisors lack training for dealing with mental wellness issues among their staff.
  • Many programs have few resources for supporting either supervisors or their staff.

Clearly, there’s a training and support gap that needs to be addressed. We’ve added courses on this topic to our online community health worker certification program, and we’re taking a deeper dive in an upcoming presentation “Supporting Mental Wellness In CHW Teams” (March 26 at 10 a.m.).

Here are some quick highlights.

Burnout, Depression and Anxiety Warning Signs

If you work in a close team, you might be able to easily tell if someone is feeling undue stress. In our behavioral health course, we flag these as some of the items to look for if you suspect someone needs help:

  • Sleeping too much or not enough
  • Sudden weight loss or gain
  • Avoiding people and activities
  • Smoking or drinking more, or using drugs
  • Mood swings
  • Apathy and calling in sick to work

Support Strategies for Supervisors

Start Before Problems Begin

One of the best things you can do is look out for any warning signs. But it’s even more effective to help your team avoid these dangers in the first place. Not only will you prevent any problems, but problems are much harder to address when they’ve already happened. Be proactive about the mental health of your team.

Listen Up

If you’re not sure if one of your CHWs is starting to feel the pressure of their job, listen. Be the kind of manager who is willing to listen to work-related issues. This gives employees the sense that they can come to you when they need to share. If they don’t volunteer information, make a habit of asking.

Similarly, encourage teamwork and bonding among the team. If you’re not there to lend an ear, someone else who understands the unique nature of being a CHW can provide a sympathetic ear.

Burn off Stress

At the top of the list is burning off stress. Organize informal picnics or potlucks with your team, so you’re connecting with each other in a way that’s not all about work. Or suggest walking meetings to recharge, as they do at Berkeley County School District, Moncks Corner, S.C.

Some organizations provide a mindfulness space to encourage relaxation or meditation. See if you can assign a room as a place where your staff can stop feeling overwhelmed. If you don’t have space or have a workforce that isn’t in a room together, encourage them to sit at their desk quietly, noticing their body’s sensations as they sit.

Mental Health Days

Your program should also offer mental health days as part of a benefits package. However, you should also suggest your staff take advantage of them. This can help CHWs realize that you support their mental wellness and that they can feel comfortable asking for time when they need it. Same goes for vacation time.

So, would you like to learn more?

Join us as we discuss improving your team’s mental wellness, identify signs that an employee is at risk for depression, anxiety, or secondary trauma, and show you how you can help your team improve their personal and professional lives. Sign up for this free presentation now.