The Massachusetts Department of Public Health uses the following functional definition of CHWs in all of its community-based contracts. This definition was developed as part of the 2005 workforce survey and report, Community Health Workers: Essential to the Health of Massachusetts.
MDPH Definition of a Community Health Worker
A Community Health Worker (CHW) is a public health outreach professional who applies his or her unique understanding of the experience, language and/or culture of the populations he or she serves in order to carry out one or more of the following roles:
- Providing culturally appropriate health education, information and outreach in community-based settings, such as homes, schools, clinics, shelters, local businesses, and community centers;
- Bridging/culturally mediating between individuals, communities and health and human services, including actively building individual and community capacity;
- Assuring that people access the services they need;
- Providing direct services, such as informal counseling, social support, care coordination and health screenings; and
- Advocating for individual and community needs.
A CHW is distinguished from other health professionals because he or she:
- is hired primarily for his or her understanding of the populations and communities he or she serves;
- conducts outreach a significant portion of the time in one or more of the categories above; and
- has experience in providing services in community settings.
CHWs in Massachusetts perform a range of important activities to promote, support, and protect the health of individuals, families and communities. These activities relate to four primary functions of CHWs, which are:
- Client Advocacy
- Health Education
- Health System Navigation
CHWs work under a variety of job titles. Some of the most widely used job titles for CHWs in Massachusetts are:
- Community Health Educator
- Enrollment Worker
- Family Advocate
- Family Planning Counselor
- Family Support Worker
- Health Advocate
- Health Educator
- HIV Peer Advocate
- Outreach Worker
- Outreach Educator
- Patient Navigator
- Peer Advocate
- Peer Leader
- Promotor(a) de Salud
- Street Outreach Worker
This information is provided by the Office of Community Health Workers within the Department of Public Health.