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Cross-training: The Simple Solution To Keep CHWs, Your Staff, and Your Clients and Patients Happier

Keeping your staff can be a challenge. Many people will leave their jobs, especially in the healthcare field.

According to a study from JAMA Health Forum, turnover rates of employees is notably high during the COVID-19 pandemic, including physicians, long-term care workers, health aids and assistants, people from historically marginalized racial and ethnic groups, and those with young children, particularly women.

That profile fits any community health worker, promotor(a) (CHW/P) or other health promoter.

The reasons for this downturn is because some people:

  • Lost their jobs
  • Became burned out
  • Didn’t want to get sick
  • Couldn’t find or afford childcare

All this in addition to not feeling supported at work or having a way to learn or develop new skills.

You may have only a handful of CHWs/Ps at your agency, but wouldn’t more be better? What if you could have more people who could do the kind of community engagement, outreach and health outcome improvements without hiring anyone new?

Turns out you can.

Benefits to Cross-training Your Staff

Training employees to take on a new role in your agency has big benefits. It can keep your staff happy, build capacity, and benefit patients and clients.

Healthcare organizations benefit when they cross-train their staff as a way to muscle up operations. It’s a technique often used to increase capacity among various nonclinical workers and cover care gaps. A cross-trained staff helps reduce overwhelm and optimize processes by balancing workloads.

Cross-train an entire healthcare team on the core competencies of health promoters like community health workers (CHWs), community health representatives (CHRs), and promotores to strengthen teams, improve client and patient care, and increase team efficiency.

→ Free Template: Hiring a CHW? Download This Job Description Template by CHWTraining

What Is Cross-Training?

Cross-training the team in your health program means giving everyone the core skills and creating a baseline education among all team members. In casual circumstances, it might be as simple as an employee coaching others on their daily responsibilities during a lunch break or a more in-depth program to cross-train staff in primary care.

But it can also be a wider and more impactful program in healthcare agencies. For example, it could be required that all incoming employees go through CHW training. Most CHW training programs are accessible, easy to integrate with existing schedules, and applicable to anyone that’s part of your health staff. Read more about creating a CHW training plan here.

The practice helps boost cohesion in the workplace because everyone understands what the CHW does and can immediately apply those skills to their day-to-day jobs. If you’re new to building an online training program for healthcare, start with learning about these benefits.

CHW roles include a wide range of tasks, like educating communities on risk factors, chronic disease management, and preventative care; and conducting outreach efforts to connect patients to valuable health resources. Every team can benefit from this core training.

Here’s how to advance a CHW career, if your team is unsure where to start.

Other basic core skills for CHWs include advocacy, care coordination, cultural responsiveness, and research skills. But CHWs undergo extensive training in what’s commonly known as Core Competencies. Read more about what Core Competencies for CHWs are here.

5 Benefits of Cross-Training Your Team as CHWs

  1. Excellent return on investment
  2. Promotes respect for CHWs
  3. Increases everyone’s knowledge
  4. Better team efficiency and collaboration
  5. Builds pathways for promotions and responsibilities

Excellent Return on Investment

Studies show that community health workers improve community health outcomes and lower costs for patients and health systems. So just imagine what could happen if you cross-train your admin or support team as CHWs. A team that’s cross-trained as CHWs can easily promote healthier eating for managing diabetes, navigate health insurance in simple terms, or connect patients and clients to the best specialist in your network or community.

The benefits to clients expand exponentially because the whole team is able to support them. And your agency works more efficiently and maximizes its budget.

Plus, you never have to hire a temp agency again. If your CHW needs to take time off, anyone can step in. This means that your CHWs can take parental or health-related leave or even a vacation. Considering the high burnout and turnover rates among healthcare staff, this is great news for your health initiative. Plus, a more content, efficient staff means healthier, happier patients.

Promotes Respect for CHWs

CHWs are generally at the bottom of the chain in many healthcare agencies. They’re more focused on saving costs than earning money. So in a health center, for example, administrators are sometimes happier to support high earners like orthopedic surgeons than a CHW or promotor who’s trying to prevent someone from coming into the hospital in the first place.

Cross-training a healthcare team can demonstrate the important and unique role of a CHW. This builds respect and understanding among the whole team. Finally, everyone else can understand what a CHW does

Increases Everyone’s Knowledge

Healthcare specialists are important. All agencies need expert RNs and dietitians. But many agencies fall into the trap of having too many specialists and not enough generalists. So any gap is hard to cover and can cause a crisis. 

Cross-training means your staff can support clients and patients at any stage of their well-being — especially if that person has complex healthcare needs. Everyone on the team is able to step up in new initiatives, outreach efforts, or liaise in challenging situations.

Cross-trained staff have the knowledge to help people with various diseases and conditions in different areas they might not be familiar with. And they are more comfortable and sensitive when supporting these clients and patients.

Better Team Efficiency and Collaboration

If a multidisciplinary team knows what the other members do, they can better communicate, coordinate job functions and patient care, and understand each other more clearly. Whenever people work together closely, they can offer suggestions for improvement and share their personal expertise.

This means that CHWs that are integrated into care teams can also understand workflows and the needs of other team members faster and intuitively. The upshot is teams get along better and need to do less explaining. This creates a more supportive environment for patients and CHWs.

Builds Pathways for Promotions and Responsibilities

CHWs who learn about others’ jobs become better at their own. And they’re also in a better position for promotion. 

On the flip side, when you cross-train healthcare employees as CHWs, you open up the opportunity for CHWs to know more about how the rest of the care team works. They can then build other skills that can take them on to jobs with greater responsibility and breadth. This makes for happier, self-motivated employees all around.

It Pays to Cross-train

Ultimately, cross-trained staff stick around for longer. This kind of longevity means that the staff you’ve invested in will remain in their job for years, maybe decades.

If someone is happy enough to stay in their job for such a long time, they’ll need those new skills to remain relevant to keep evolving in their position.

Those who have been able to evolve can feed their knowledge back into the organization. They can:

  • Understand more about the agency and programs where they work
  • Contribute more to projects and programs because they know more about the organization and motivations
  • Support others at work by knowing more about their jobs and being able to bring their ideas and innovations to tasks

How To Cross-Train Your Staff Effectively

Now that you’re convinced everyone on your healthcare team needs to be a community health worker (and your CHWs need to be trained in other areas), you can start to do it.

Training your staff in new skills can take on many forms. It will depend on what you’re training them to do. But here’s a 3-step process you can follow to get going. Review it with others at your agency to find out the right mix for what you need.

Step 1: Sign up for CHW Core Competencies

Start out by making sure everyone knows the CHW core competencies where you work.

Depending on where you are, your state may have legislation on your competencies and required experience as a CHW. Some states have CHW certification standards that your staff will need to follow if they want to be credentialed.

Certification often requires retraining on a regular basis to keep up on best practices, guidance and skills.

Look at the Core CHW Core Competencies Resource Guide to see what the requirements are in your state.

Step 2: Assign Mentors and Protégées

Move on to some matchmaking among your staff. You can assign mentors and proteges in different departments or different programs that complement each other.

For example, you might have a team that works only on tobacco cessation. They might specialize in support groups to help people stop addiction.

You might pair up one of the tobacco cessation program’s workers with a CHW. The CHW will have specific information about the community and outreach that they can share with the tobacco program’s employee.

On the flip side, the tobacco program’s employee can share tips on motivational strategies for clients that the CHW can use with their clients.

Step 3: Give Employees a Chance to Choose

In addition to matchmaking and formal professional development training, let your staff choose what they want to learn.

You might allow them to spend 20 percent of their time working on something that interests them in the agency. This could be something that you identify as directly relating to their job—or maybe not.

This opportunity could end up leading to great places that you, your agency and your CHWs never expected, which will make everyone happier.

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