In healthcare, there are many different roles and positions and each one comes with its own level of responsibility and importance. When we think about healthcare, doctors and nurses come to mind first because they are often the most highly represented professions. Sometimes we forget about the essential community health workers and the role they play in a public health crisis.
What is a community health worker and why they are important:
A community health worker (CHW) is a trusted member of the community who empowers their peers through education and connections to health and social resources.
The emergence of the community health worker started in the 1970’s and was used in low and middle-income areas to provide peer-to-peer health education. CHWs build individual and community capacity by increasing health knowledge and self-sufficiency through a range of activities such as health outreach, community education, informal counseling, social support, and advocacy.
Community Health Workers are unique in using their cultural identity and local relationships to impact their neighbors in ways traditional doctors and nurses working primarily in a clinic cannot. CHW’s can be trained to assist people with social service applications, especially Medicaid, and facilitate educational sessions.
This role is more important now than ever before. If we are to have an impact on the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States and beyond, we will need to employ CHWs on a massive scale. Community Health Workers can reach the hard-to-reach and have been proven to do the following:
- Improve access to health care services
- Increase health screenings
- Bridge the gap between the health and social service systems
- Enhance communication between health providers
- Increase use of health care services
- Reduce the need for emergency and specialty services
How might you and your team use community health workers to address the COVID-19 pandemic?