Community Health Workers: Promoting a Vital Workforce
Community health workers (CHWs) are a vital component of the state and national public health and health care workforce. “Community health worker” is an umbrella term for a number of different job titles, including community health advocates, outreach educators, peer leaders, promotores de salud, doulas, and patient navigators. For many decades, CHWs have made significant contributions to community-based health promotion, disease prevention and maternal child health support. In Massachusetts, as elsewhere, they have also improved the rate of health insurance coverage for underserved communities and individuals.
CHWs improve access to and increase utilization of primary health care, reduce costs of care, improve quality of care, and reduce health disparities. The definition of a community health worker is important for understanding their role as a bridge between traditionally underserved populations and needed health information, support and care, as well as important basic and social services. CHWs often assist in disease prevention as well as in addressing the following: chronic disease management, maternal and child health, HIV/AIDS, diabetes, substance abuse, asthma and others. Key CHW roles include outreach, health education, client advocacy and empowerment, as well as health system navigation. CHWs are distinguished from other health professionals because they are hired primarily for their special connection to and understanding of the populations and communities they serve, conduct outreach a significant portion of the time, and have experience providing services in community settings.
MDPH has been a strong supporter of CHWs. It has been the single largest funder of CHW services and training in Massachusetts for several decades. In addition to ongoing programmatic support of CHWs through DPH contracts, the Department conducts a number of capacity-building initiatives to strengthen the CHW workforce in the following areas:
- Development and support of CHW leadership
- Promotion of CHWs by DPH leadership
- Commitment of DPH staff and resources
- Technical assistance
- Fundraising support and promotion of funding opportunities
- Demonstration grants
- Policy development, including certification
- Training and curriculum development
- Research and publications
- Strategic partnerships
- Convening and leading public-private initiatives
- National networking and promotion of CHW movement
The DPH Office of CHWs was established in 2009 in response to one of a series of recommendations in a report to the legislature mandated by a provision of the 2006 Massachusetts health care reform law (https://malegislature.gov/Laws/SessionLaws/Acts/2006/Chapter58, Section 110). The Office helps to coordinate the workforce development activities listed above.
- CHW Definitions
- CHW Training Resources
- DPH and Other Massachusetts CHW Resources and Support
- National and Selected Resources from Other States
- CHW Organizations
Gail Hirsch, MEd, Director
Office of Community Health Workers