A community health worker (CHW) is a frontline health worker who is a trusted member of and/or has a unique understanding of the community that they serve.
In the evolving sphere of community or population health and the pursuit of the triple aim (Better Health Care, Better Health, and Reduced Cost), community health workers play a vital role. CHWs reflect the values and culture of the community they work within, making them especially adept at providing culturally relevant services.
They develop peer-to-peer relationships of trust, rather than provider-patient relationships. It is these relationships, rather than clinical expertise, that allow CHWs to communicate openly with people on issues related to health and ultimately to improve health care access and outcomes for those people.
Historically, two of the main challenges for this workforce to date in the bi-state region surrounding Kansas City are
- limited adoption of the model by formal health care and public health entities, and
- lack of formal training programs and educational resources for CHWs.
In 2011, believing in the value of community health workers, a group of community stakeholders began an ongoing CHW coalition under the umbrella of the Mid-America Regional Council (MARC) to address both of these issues.
Today, the Metropolitan Community Colleges of Kansas City (MCC) offers a community health worker certificate program and will soon offer for-credit community college CHW classes. And, several area health care providers use CHWs in service delivery, including the Kansas City CARE Clinic, Truman Medical Center, University of Kansas, Swope Health Systems, and Samuel U. Rodgers Health Center.
These programs add community health workers to the landscape where El Centro started in this region about eight years ago by piloting a Promotora de Salud (health promoter) program. At KC CARE Clinic, partly through funding by the Health Forward Foundation, a team of 14 CHWs work across the region to assist high-risk, uninsured and underinsured people with initial access, continued engagement in health care, and improved self-management of health.
Looking forward, the regional CHW coalition is working with state officials from both Kansas and Missouri to further institutionalize the community health worker workforce. Under the Missouri Department of Health and Human Services, several local CHW leaders serve on an advisory committee seeking to adopt common core competencies, scope of practice, and educational standards for community health workers in Missouri.
The Kansas Department of Health and Environment has engaged Kansas City region CHW stakeholders in beginning to coalesce around these topics.
Finally, the Kansas City Regional Community Health Worker coalition is working to promote the long-term sustainability and viability of CHWs in Missouri and Kansas. This group meets monthly at the MARC offices at 6th and Broadway on the fourth Thursday from 9-11 am. Anyone interested in the promotion of community health workers is encouraged to attend.
This blog post is part of A Healthy 10.