United States: In the Persistent effort to reduce Health care disparities within the United States, community health workers emerge as an underexploited and invaluable asset. In the pursuit of broadening healthcare access, undertaken by health organizations, non-profit entities, and governmental bodies alike, a comprehensive comprehension of how these proficient individuals can contribute to the enhancement of the communities becomes imperative.
Community health workers serve as frontline public health professionals who possess the trust of the members as well as a deep understanding of the communities they engage with. These committed individuals undergo specialized training aimed at enhancing the relationships between historically marginalized communities and the healthcare system.
In the United States, Community Health workers provide a variety of crucial services in many different forms. They can easily provide initial medical assistance, distribute informative materials, and accompany individuals to healthcare providers during excursions. Moreover, they function as “cultural intermediaries,” mitigating language obstacles and other hindrances to optimal healthcare.
Their expertise extends to medical departments, public departments, educational institutes and local communities.
While community health workers undergo formal training and certification, there are no specific traditional degrees required. This opens employment opportunities for individuals with different educational backgrounds, providing them with a chance to make a significant impact.
After completing the training at Meharry Medical College, community health worker Andrea Barstow recently joined a historically significant institution specializing in healthcare education situated in Nashville, Tennessee.
The institution diligently equips healthcare professionals to tackle mental and cardiovascular health disparities prevalent within their respective communities across the state.
Barstow’s brother was experiencing mental health issues, and to help her brother, she became a community health worker.
“As I helped him by seeking out mental health resources, I started to share the information with others. The more I shared, the more I ended up at community events,” she said. “It was then I decided that becoming a community health worker was what I wanted to do.”
The program at Meharry Medical College is comprised of activities like motivational interviewing, chronic disease screening and CPR, for which community health workers can earn more certification. With this knowledge and skills acquired through this evidence-based training, these practitioners can furnish pivotal resources and amenities to communities historically bereft of adequate support, often aligning demographically with constituents of this pivotal labor force.
In a recent study conducted in 2021 by the National Association of Community Health Workers, it was revealed that 31.7% of individuals engaged in community health work identified as African American/Black, while 37.7% identified as Hispanic, and 11.1% claimed a multiracial or other identity. This diversity frequently encounters health disparities stemming from challenges in accessing healthcare, unfulfilled social needs such as transportation and housing, and biases exhibited by healthcare practitioners. The critical role of community health workers in overcoming these hurdles cannot be overstated, as they function as vital links to enhance health outcomes. Their responsibilities encompass guiding patients through the intricacies of the healthcare system, cultivating trust, and facilitating connections between patients and imperative social services.
Healthcare professionals are harnessing the potential of community members to strengthen and enhance care, creating an essential connection within the healthcare system.
As healthcare institutions and medical education centers strive to enhance community health worker initiatives, our hope is that a growing number of people and households nationwide will directly witness the positive outcomes of these programs.