Celebrating Community Health Workers | HHS.gov

August 28 to September 1 is National Community Health Worker Awareness Week

This week is National Public Health Worker Awareness Week and I want to draw attention to the vital role these frontline public health workers play. The first time I saw community health workers (CHWs) in action was when I began my medical career at Mount Sinai Hospital in East Harlem. While East Harlem was in the shadow of one of the best hospitals in the country, not all members of the community sought care there. CHWs helped bridge the gap, they were the cultural link between a community and its healthcare system. CHWs are some of the community’s most trusted voices when it comes to health because they come from the communities they serve. And they are one of the best ways to address health inequity and disparities.

However, despite its value, not everyone is aware of the importance of their work. There are tens of thousands of CHWs across the United States. Together, they form a safety net that protects the most vulnerable in our communities by helping to remove barriers to healthcare, whether it’s information, translation services, or building trust. Their work is as diverse as the communities they serve. There are CHWs providing vaccine education and dispelling vaccine misinformation, a critical role during the COVID-19 pandemic. CHWs also promote equitable mental health services among LGBTQI+ youth or provide chronic health screenings in Black communities with low trust in their health systems. Rural CHWs improve self-management of chronic diseases, an important function when health care services are far away.

There have been more than 500 studies on the effectiveness of community health workers in the last decade and they all point to one thing: the CHW model works. TO report – PDF of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO) found that CHW interventions:

  • Better management and care of chronic diseases among vulnerable populations
  • Decrease in glucose numbers in people with diabetes.
  • Increased post-hospital outcomes: obtaining primary care, improvements in mental health and reducing readmissions

But the greatest benefit of the CHW model, and one of my passions, is improving health equity. As the evidence shows, this is where TSCs really shine. I believe the possibilities for integrating CHWs into healthcare are endless. CHWs can help improve access, increase health screenings, and improve communication between patients and healthcare providers. Their efforts improve compliance with health recommendations, reducing the need for emergency visits. These are important examples of how to reduce barriers to health care and improve health equity.

As a pediatrician, I find the work CHWs do with children especially promising. A recent JAMA One study found that a team-based approach that included CHWs as coaches resulted in improvements in preventive care for children from low-income families who are insured by Medicaid. As US Deputy Secretary of Health, I recognize the value of TSCs in supporting HHS strategic goals. They have a role to play in all of our priorities, from strengthening equitable access to health care and improving outcomes for health conditions to strengthening social well-being and restoring trust in science.

We need to think creatively about how to better integrate health workers into health programs and systems, particularly those that benefit vulnerable communities. That’s why this week, I encourage my fellow physicians and public health professionals to learn more about CHWs and think creatively about how to harness the power of their work to benefit our patients. Here are some resources to learn more:

And for me, personally, I want to thank all the CHWs who helped a grandmother gain confidence in getting the COVID vaccine, empowered a husband to manage his diabetes, or helped an LGBTQI+ teen get the support they needed. These actions save lives and help make communities healthier and more vibrant. I deeply appreciate the work you do.

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