One of the most in-demand and fastest-growing roles in healthcare today is one that many people have never heard of: that of community health worker, also known as of CSA.
The role of a community health worker can best be described as part social worker, part counselor and part advocate, with perhaps a dash of magician, which would explain their ability to solve many of the most difficult problems. most urgent of a patient.
For example, community health workers are very familiar with the network of social services in a particular geographic area and can usually help a patient obtain the necessities of life – such as temporary housing, utility assistance, transport to appointments. – you medical, insurance, food or clothing – when previously the patient did not know where to turn or had been stopped by roadblocks in the system.
“This is a great first step for a career in health care,” said Amanda Vommaro, CCHW, director of patient-centered services and supervisor of community health workers at the Wright Center for Community Health. “It’s more like a social worker. You help people take care of their social needs so that they are better able to prioritize and take care of their medical needs.
Employment of community health workers in the United States is expected to grow 12% between 2021 and 2031 – much faster than the average for other occupations, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics.
President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion US bailout called for hiring 100,000 community health workers over 10 years starting in 2021 to support COVID-19 prevention and control. Many of these jobs, which are increasingly valued in the healthcare industry for reasons other than the pandemic and its challenges, have yet to be filled in northeast Pennsylvania, perhaps due to ignorance of the position.
To help address the shortage, the Pennsylvania Area Health Education Center offers a 100-hour training program designed to provide the basic skills needed to work in community and hospital settings. Community health workers generally need at least a high school diploma. They must complete the required training offered by an institution such as AHEC as well as extensive on-the-job training at a facility such as one of the Wright Center primary care practices.
The Wright Center hired five community health workers in 2022, and three other CHW candidates are currently completing their training. These newcomers work within the patient-centred care teams at the Wright Center for Community Health Kingston Practice, 2 Sharpe St., Kingston; the Scranton Firm, 501 S. Washington Ave., Scranton; and the Mid Valley Practice, 5 S. Washington Ave., Jermyn.
The training provides comprehensive information on how to effectively connect patients to appropriate health care and other social and community resources specific to the location of the training site, whether a rural community such as Jermyn or an urban center like Wilkes-Barre.
“We work with local food banks and shelters, transit and housing services and other organizations to help people in our communities,” Vommaro said, “people who are our neighbors.”
The Wright Center and the Northeast Pennsylvania Area Health Education Center have established a strong collaborative relationship to continue to recruit, train and certify area community health workers to serve the local community. Applicants are sought throughout the Wright Center’s five-county service area, including locations such as Greater Scranton, the Wilkes-Barre area and Hazleton. Bilingual professionals are particularly sought after.
These frontline public health workers help improve the quality of care and break down cultural, language and other common barriers to treatment. Overall, they can improve health outcomes and save money by acting as a bridge between patients and the health and social care systems. By building a relationship of trust with patients, they learn more about their lives, their resources, and their needs, as well as the barriers they face to being as healthy as possible.
For example, community health workers can help patients understand their health insurance options and navigate the application process, or help elderly patients obtain needed durable medical equipment they might not be able to afford. other.
Bonnie Dunleavy, CCHW, spent over 20 years working in the health field before becoming a Community Health Worker in 2018.
“I started doing this before it became a position,” she said. “I’m really a people person. I have always enjoyed helping people, trying to find solutions to their problems and making a difference in their lives.
One of the biggest challenges Dunleavy and Vommaro see among their patients is finding affordable housing.
“There is such a lack of social housing,” said Dunleavy, who uses every resource at her disposal to ensure a safe, warm bed at night for her patients. “With the cost of rent, the cost of inflation, more and more people are finding themselves evicted or choosing to live in their cars.”
Most people in this dilemma will try to live with family or friends for a while, bouncing from house to house, Dunleavy said. Others go to shelters, which begin to fill up during the cold season.
“We need more resources in the community to help people,” she said. “But we do our best with what we have.”
Dunleavy and Vommaro are currently among more than 500 community health workers employed in Pennsylvania, according to information released in September 2022 at the first Pennsylvania Community Health Worker Conference in Boalsburg.
Dr. Linda Thomas-Hemak, president and CEO of the Wright Centers for Community Health and Graduate Medical Education, sees community health workers as a key part of providing holistic care to the person, as they help identify and address social and economic issues that a patient might be experiencing outside of the clinic, such as food insecurity or lack of adequate housing. Through their efforts, CHWs help entire families and connect formerly marginalized populations to the affordable, non-discriminatory, high-quality health services they deserve.
“Community health workers are essential members of our care teams who elevate our efforts to promote wellness and resilience, to increase the use of preventive services, to better manage chronic diseases and to address the determinants complex socioeconomics of health,” said Thomas-Hemak.
“These passionate and talented frontline public health workers are trusted members of our team and the communities they serve,” she added. “By acting as frontline agents of change, they are reducing health inequities and disparities in our medically underserved communities.”
For more information on the role of community health workers or to apply for a training course, visit www.pachw.org/education-training. Current community health workers can apply for open positions at the Wright Center for Community Health by visiting TheWrightCenter.org/careers.
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