Written by Hanh Nguyen, Whole Person Care Project Assistant.
Community health workers (CHWs) are trained public health workers who play a critical role in helping patients navigate the healthcare system to access essential medical and social services. What makes CHWs unique is their exceptionally close understanding of the communities that they serve—they usually share ethnicity, language, socioeconomic status and/or life experiences with those residing in their community.
Thanks to this close community connection, CHWs are the frontline of real and necessary change. CHW programs across the country are helping to reduce health disparities by bridging the information, communication, and cultural gaps that members of underserved populations often face when seeking the care they need. Studies show that CHWs are a powerful force for promoting healthy behaviors in resource-constrained settings, and patients who receive CHW services improve in health outcomes and have less need to access high-cost services, such as Emergency Department visits and hospital readmissions.
In support of the important role that CHWs play in improving patient care, CHLPI has released an issue brief to assist Maryland healthcare providers who are interested in developing effective training programs to enhance the ability of local CHWs to help patients prevent illness and manage their health. The issue brief explores strategies for designing a CHW curriculum, identifies systemic issues in CHW training, such as funding and credentialing, highlights recent changes to Maryland law that will impact these issues, and provides a series of recommendations for the next steps that Maryland healthcare providers can take to create sustainable, successful CHW programs.
CHWs are critical to a well-coordinated and effective system of care. We are therefore excited to see all of the efforts being made across the nation to support CHW training and enhance the ability of CHWs to provide essential services to their communities. CHLPI will continue to assist healthcare providers and other stakeholders as they work to build these important programs. Check back regularly for updates on our work with community health workers!