In Missouri and across the country, Community Health Workers (CHW) play an essential role in addressing issues that create barriers to a healthy life
. They provide a range of important services, including nutrition education, prevention and management of chronic diseases, family planning and reproductive health education, and skills for immigrants and refugees to navigate the U.S. health system, among many others.
“A community health worker serves as a liaison between medical and social services and the community,” said Mandy Herleth, Chief Compliance Officer, Northeast Missouri Health Council. “They help build individual and community capacity by increasing health knowledge and self-sufficiency through a range of activities such as outreach, education, informal counseling, social support, and advocacy.”
Community health workers can help patients with: home safety visits, sanitation of the environment, provision of water and nutrition, health education, maternal and child health support, family planning activities, and record-keeping and collection of data.
“Ultimately, community health workers have a unique opportunity to reach community members where they live and work. This leads to improved access to health care services, increased health screenings, stronger connections between community members and healthcare systems, improved communication between communities and health providers, reduced need for emergency services, and improved community health,” said Herleth.
Community health workers hold a unique and important role within the healthcare community. In both urban and rural environments, community health care workers usually share life experiences, socioeconomic status, and can make a huge impact in small ways.
“We’ve had a community health worker visit an elderly person's home to show them how to set up a pillbox. The pillbox helps the patient stay organized and on schedule so they can remember to take their medication,” said Amy Summers, Community Health Worker, Northeast Missouri Health Council. “How can a family work on being healthy when their world/house is falling apart around them. We help them with resources in the community, education, and strategies so that they can focus on their health,” said Summers.
Research shows that successful community health workers can help reduce disparities in health care and build strong communication with existing health care systems.
“I think it’s important that we provide this service because it can directly impact a patient's overall health,” said Jennifer Walker, RN, Community Health Worker, Northeast Missouri Health Council. “For example, if a doctor prescribes a blood thinner to decrease the risk of a blood clot but the patient forgets to take the pills because they live alone and don’t have a pillbox to help schedule their medication then the patient isn’t going to be able to reach his/her optimal health. A community health worker can bridge the gap and make a big impact on a patient's health,” said Walker.
Community health workers can also function as role models by promoting, encouraging, and supporting positive and healthy self-care and self-management behaviors among patients. As advocates, they can help ensure that underserved community members get the services and follow-up care they need.
“Community health workers are sort of an extension of social services that can have a huge impact on improving a patient's health and overall quality of life,” said Summers.
“Working with the CHWs greatly improves patient outcomes at NMHC,” said Dr. Crystal Redmond. “They have helped me secure affordable dental work for patients who do not qualify for Medicaid, help patients that are food insecure find food resources and even help find housing options for patients.”