This world has a new definition of normal, and healthcare has changed in ways we are only beginning to understand. Making some long-term plans at your agency might seem rash while so much is uncertain. But there is one change you can make this year that will only make your agency and community stronger: start a community health worker program.
It’s time to invest in a CHW program.
This is a great time to invest in a program that uses CHWs, community health representatives (CHRs), or promotores. The job market is booming and a lot of talented and dedicated people are looking for work, and there’s funding. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) plans to provide $300 million for CHW services to support COVID-19 prevention and control, and an additional $32 million for training, technical assistance, and evaluation.
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5 reasons why this is a great time to expand your Community Health Worker Program
Your Health Initiative Improves health outcomes.
A program using community health workers can considerably improve the health outcomes of community members and patients. This is especially true among underserved populations that are ordinarily hard for health systems to reach.
This makes CHWs critical members of healthcare and community teams because they can connect with the kind of expertise physicians or other specialists don’t have. They can connect clients to the right service for other support, such as transportation or food.
CHWs are also trained in health promotion, so they can help keep people healthy before they even need services. Some CHWs lead cooking classes or encourage clients to boost physical activity.
A CHW Program Increases access to healthcare for racial and ethnic minorities.
Health disparities are more recognized after a year of protests and pandemics, but they’ve always been there. A CHW is trained to identify health disparities and understand how they affect communities.
CHWs can hack through barriers that prevent people from finding and using health and social systems. They work specifically in areas that have inadequate or hard-to-reach medical care.
Here’s an example from the Commonwealth Fund that shows mortality rates of African American and white women.
Source: Commonwealth Fund
They can do this because they share the same background as their clients and speak the same language. CHWs have an understanding of health beliefs and know the barriers that ethnic minority people face. They can take this insider knowledge and provide perspective to health care service providers.
Your Program serves as a bridge between healthcare providers and communities.
A doctor can diagnose an illness or can write a prescription for treatment. But a CHW can figure out what’s going on in a person’s life that’s preventing them from getting care or following the treatment.
Community Health Workers serve as a bridge that crosses the gap between providers and services and the people who most need them.
Partly they do this by explaining complex healthcare systems to people who are confused, and in a language they both speak. Sometimes literally, as with promotores, or sometimes metaphorically, just because they can relate to the same culture.
CHWs can simplify the systems and procedures of the healthcare system. Doctors simply don’t have the time or access to provide the kind of follow-up that would show if a person has taken their Metformin for their type 2 diabetes. What’s more, a CHW might know that their client is planning on attending a wedding in the near future and could use some social support avoiding cake and alcohol at the event.
CHWs Reduce the demand on the healthcare system.
Supporting clinicians—who are still responsible for medical advice—is a major reason CHWs can reduce the demand on the healthcare system. This can add up to high dollars.
A study from the American Cancer Society showed that CHWs produce benefits of $12,348 per person served. If a CHW serves 69 people per year, that amounts to close to a million ($851,410) in savings—every single year.
People who benefit from CHWs live longer, and they don’t use the emergency room as often. They also stay out of the hospital.
Massachusetts General Hospital did a study of a program that matched community health workers with clinically complex patients, and they reduced readmissions nearly 50%.
Community health worker programs use the resources your agency already has.
CHW programs offer a big return on investment, partly because they are designed to use resources that are already there. Thus, they don’t require new equipment, programs, staff (aside from themselves), or infrastructure. Most CHW programs are there simply to provide better access to what you’re already doing. This in itself is enough to secure ongoing funding for programs that provide more widespread benefits.
Are you considering starting a Community Health Worker program?
If so, you want to see what we can do for you. We can keep your new CHWs trained to begin and as a regular way to keep their skills up to date.