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We are entering the era of the community health worker (CHW). With decades-old roots in public and community health, it took a pandemic to truly recognize the value of the community health worker role in connecting community with clinician. Now it’s time to spread the word.

There are few barriers to entry for this in-demand position. It doesn’t require a college degree or a healthcare background. The basic requirements are a high school diploma or equivalent and being at least 18 years old. The average annual salary is about $45,000, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Plus, the CHW role truly welcomes all – immigrants with knowledge of navigating the system as a native speaker, the differently-abled who can assess how various physical or emotional challenges are impacting their assigned population, and those familiar with health equity – and inequity.

Comprehensive training is mandatory for a community health worker, though – 166 hours, including an internship, in order to receive a Certificate and work in the State of Michigan. The state’s certification program is in its infancy, by the way, but it’s on the right track in recognizing the value of community health workers as a conduit between the community and the many facets of the healthcare system.

One aspect of the CHW role is that it may be the missing link between data and action. For too long, we were making healthcare decisions in the dark; now we have an endless supply of data (and consultants who can collect and sell it to us) but not enough boots on the ground to effect change at the grass roots level. The CHW can change that. Lay people look at healthcare situations differently than licensed clinicians. There is no over-reliance on data; rather, the human element considers the data but knows when to set it aside, depending on the matter or crisis at hand.

While CHW’s aren’t licensed clinicians, their training does include the basics of health assessments, including blood pressure screenings. They are also well-suited to initial home visits to assess social determinants of health (#SDOH). Is the home accessible inside and out? Is there fresh food available or are the few refrigerated remnants moldy and inedible? Is transportation available for grocery shopping, socialization or doctor visits? A CHW can discern these important health considerations and provide community resources designed for solution-oriented follow-up.

Many insurers are also beginning to recognize the community health worker as the new, must-have care team member for an efficient connector between clinician and community. That’s right, some services of a CHW are reimbursable to the provider; however, they must be connected to a clinical organization. That’s one reason you’ll be seeing more human service agencies teaming up with physician organizations and other healthcare entities in order to deploy CHWs to their constituents.

It’s important to note that CHWs are not restricted to low-income areas. The physician office in Birmingham can benefit as much as one in Ecorse, if for no other reason than CHWs are connected to community resources as part of their job. Most physicians or

Advanced Practice Providers have only passing knowledge of the resources available at no or low-cost to area residents, but that’s understandable. They are swamped with clinical demands, electronic health record keeping, and the business side of being a primary care practice owner.

With the current shortage of healthcare workers in all disciplines, there’s an immediate need to grow the ranks of community health workers. Practice Transformation Institute (PTI) has created a more robust curriculum that meets the national C3 Project that provides guidance for improving CHW practice and policy. PTI is in the process of training a cohort of 25 eager CHWs. That’s not many, but it’s a start. If you are in a position to influence a young adult considering various career options, or a seasoned professional looking to switch careers and make a difference, mention the emerging field of community health workers. Together – and in a fairly rapid period of time – we can create a cadre of caring CHWs committed to helping achieve critical community health goals. To receive information or join the next cohort of learners, send an email to hkinkle@transformcoach.org.