Photo Credit: Zack DeClerck, Partners In Health
This week, (Aug. 28 - Sept. 1) is National Community Health Worker (CHW) Awareness Week. CHWs are frontline public health workers who are trusted members of and/or have an unusually close understanding of the community served.
This trusting relationship enables CHWs to serve as a link between health/social services and the community they serve, facilitating access to services and improving the quality and cultural competence of service delivery. CHWs also build individual and community capacity by increasing health knowledge and self-sufficiency through a range of activities such as outreach, community education, informal counseling, social support, and advocacy.*
Across NC, CHWs are an important part of building healthy communities with a focus on equity. During COVID-19, CHWs supported by federal funding through the NC Office of Rural Health (ORH), reached nearly 3.5 million individuals in NC to provide support, education and vaccine access. The state’s COVID response was much stronger thanks to the work of CHWs across this state.
Over the past year, the CHWs who focused on COVID have returned to providing a wider range of services, often focusing on chronic illness and helping community members address the non-medical drivers of health, such as food, transportation, housing and personal safety.
Through the NC CHW Initiative, funded through a grant by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), ORH has supported the establishment of the NC Community Health Worker Association (NCCHWA), including CHW certification. The Initiative has supported further development of CHW training, including the development of health coaching and supervisor training. Also, through CDC funding, ORH has worked with the NC Community Health Center Association to support a pilot on the integration of CHWs at local community health centers.
NCCHWA is working across the state to support this critical workforce as it aims to improve the health of some of the most vulnerable communities. They have certified more than 800 community health workers in the past 18 months and rolled out certification for advanced levels - one of the first in the nation. They have coordinated all training efforts for CHWs in partnership with the NC Community College System and NC AHEC. NCCHWA is also helping CHWs support community members through Medicaid and Medicare.
*American Public Health Association