The Importance of Community Based Health Worker Programs
By Carolyn Custer, DO and Lee Watson
Community health workers (CHWs) are frontline public health workers who work closely with the community they serve, playing a vital role in improving health equity for many in underserved populations. The overarching goal of CHW programming is to effectively educate, motivate and support patients in pursuing behavior and lifestyle modifications that improve health status and quality of life. CHWs are responsible for promoting behavior changes, assisting with linkages to appropriate health care services, and assisting individuals with self-management of chronic diseases. They also play a major role in assessing for social determinants of health and providing linkages to appropriate resources. CHWs also build individual and community capacity and cultural competency through outreach, education, social support and advocacy in the community.
Community health workers assist in serving as a bridge between underserved communities and healthcare systems though 4 key roles:
- Providing direct services
- Navigating the health and human service system
- Bridging the gap between communities and the health and social service systems
- Advocating for individual and community (population health) needs
- Typically, community health workers are members of the target community being served. Familiarity with the local community is essential to building trusting relationships that enable CHWs to serve as a liaison between the community and the complex health care system.
The Wellness Center at McKenny is an integrated primary care practice located in Northwest Detroit. The Center, a training site for the Authority Health graduate medical education residency programs, serves an access point for medical, behavioral health and pharmacy services to the local community. At McKenny, CHWs will be an integral part of the interdisciplinary health care team serving in a variety of capacities and roles, to ensure that the community receives the highest quality, culturally competent care possible.