Community Health Workers (CHWs) are trusted individuals who improve health within their own communities through areas including social support, navigation, health coaching, and advocacy. CHWs share life experiences with the people they serve and display traits such as empathy and altruism. This makes them highly effective. In Appalachian counties where access to healthcare services is limited and social determinants of health create additional barriers, CHWs are bridging the gap between community members and the services they need to live healthy lives.
"The client was really hungry for support. Really wanted to jump in with both feet, on the diabetes self-care train...They are engaging in more cooking at home. They are less anxious about their new diagnosis and they actually have a goal to reverse it."
"I feel this sense of appreciation. A lot of us grew up in the area and I am glad to know that we are being valued and that research is being done about what is happening here."
In 2015, Medicaid Technical Assistance and Policy Program (MEDTAPP) funds were allocated to universities around Ohio to develop community health worker training programs and address a growing workforce need. Northeast Ohio Medical University (NEOMED) trained master trainers in southeast Ohio; Ohio University trained its first cohort in 2017, when it was certified by the Ohio Board of Nursing. Since its launch, participant numbers have grown steadily with each cohort offered. To date, trainees have been deployed to agencies and organizations serving 21 Appalachian counties in Ohio.
CHWs complete 100 hours of didactic classroom content that is competency-based and designed for adult learners. Participants are then placed in a community setting to fulfill 130 hours in a field practicum. In 2020, the training curriculum was converted from an in-person format to an online hybrid format in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, expanding the reach and flexibility of the program. The Alliance strives to secure funding to decrease the barriers for individuals to participate so that those passionate about improving the
"One of the highlights is the emphasis on community health worker geographic equity. Like the people who take those positions know their community. Most of the ones I've met, at least, they are an integral part of different kinds of community organizations, they are really involved with their family systems, or some kind of faith organization. They are engrained in their community. I think that is huge."