Why retrain your community health worker team

Why You Should Retrain Your Community Health Worker Team Regularly

You can predict community members will need support for their health, but you can’t always predict how. In 2019, not many—if any—agencies were training their community health worker teams to respond to global pandemics. But two years later, CHWs have a whole new skill set and expanded responsibilities to support people with COVID-19 and keep people from getting sick. 2020 meant a shift in the way health teams work. As a result, we now need more CHWs than ever before. The landscape and skillset they need are constantly changing too. If your agency works with community health worker teams (promotores, community health representatives, or similar titles), you should plan to retrain them on a regular basis.

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Why To Retrain CHWs

Keeping your CHWs’ skills sharp is important when communities have evolving needs. Plus, states update certification requirements frequently, which can lead to the need for new skills in order to stay certified.

Offering retraining is also a way to keep your CHWs working to the best of their ability. A person who’s been in one job for a while might forget material they learned long ago, or they might have new clients or job responsibilities that require a skills update.

Responding to needs isn’t the only reason to retrain CHWs. Employees and volunteers who have received ongoing education are more capable, valuable and happy. There’s also a reduced chance they could make a mistake.

Read on for some of the reasons why you should retrain your existing CHW team.

How To Stay Current by Retraining CHW Teams

Meet State or Agency Requirements

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.

Expand Responsibilities

A CHW’s responsibilities vary depending on the community they serve. For example, basic duties may include:

  • Facilitate access to healthcare services (including coordinating transit, helping navigate health insurance, offering language services, and other similar tasks)
  • Assist in disease prevention — such as helping make the home a healthy environment for those with chronic illnesses (like asthma), educate their peers about healthy living, and encourage the population to get regular screenings
  • Advocate for the needs of the community they serve — including opening and maintaining communication with local healthcare providers
  • Organize local outreach programs — to raise awareness about the existence of the initiative, making it possible for everyone to access the services they need
  • Collect health data from a population — to report to healthcare officials

Additional training can help expand those duties to work with other populations. CHWs can retrain to specialize in almost any area of health, from autism spectrum disorder to Alzheimer’s to asthma. They can work in a variety of settings, such as communities, hospitals, nonprofit organizations, doctor’s offices or schools, and each of these are in their own way a specialization.

Retraining in these specializations are helpful in any CHW job, but they can also lay the groundwork to these kinds of positions:

  • Certified diabetes educator
  • Diabetes educator
  • Health educator
  • Certified drug & alcohol counselor

Avoid Mistakes

Trying harder doesn’t always help someone avoid mistakes. In healthcare, making sure that your CHWs are interacting with clients and patients the correct way can help them avoid a potentially very damaging error.

Refresher training is designed to avoid this. Evaluate the topics your CHWs needs to know and decide which ones should be given again. This might be an entire core competencies program in order to standardize learning for your team, or it might be a module on hypertension because guidelines have been updated.

Increase Retention

If you have a CHW program, you’re likely to have more success keeping your community health worker on board if you retrain them regularly and create career development programs that meet their needs and wants.

One powerful solution to a revolving door is training. This means offering training as a benefit for new and existing hires, rather than a requirement for people you haven’t hired yet. 

A recent report showed that 94 percent of employees would stay with a company longer if there was an investment in learning.

Life happens, and sometimes people just quit. There’s nothing you can do about that. But you can certainly reduce some employee turnover.

Furthermore, some agencies offer perks and higher pay as a way to encourage hires to stay. That can help. Especially when positions like CHWs have such high burnout rates. Being supportive of your employees can help keep them on board.

Give CHWs New Skills

Many programs train CHWs to address one need: help with diabetes management, assist new mothers, specialize in nutrition. This is often because of single-source funding that supports a CHW program.

This is a helpful strategy and can help support community members who need extra help getting on the road to self-management.

However, if you follow this strategy, you’re missing the opportunity to integrate CHWs into care teams to work across the healthcare system. Patients are often more likely to respond to a CHW than their doctor. So CHWs can share information with others to secure more comprehensive care.

If you retrain your team with new skills, each community health worker can do a lot more with their clients and patients in one visit.

Meet Demand by Cross-training

One reason the CHW job market is growing faster than the average for all occupations is that they’re so helpful for reaching underserved populations. So much so that the employment of health education specialists and CHWs is on target to grow 17 percent in the next 10 years, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The BLS says that every year there will be 16,100 openings for health education specialists and CHWs.

You can meet that demand if you cross-train your staff or retrain your community health worker team to acquire new skills. 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-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.

CHW State Requirements

Launch a successful CHW program by learning what the requirements are in every state.