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."

health and wellness of their community are able to earn certification. We do this through grant funded stipends and collaborating with community partners around the state.

COVID Response

On March 19, 2020, the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security 
Agency issued a memorandum on identification of essential critical infrastructure workers during the 
COVID-19 pandemic. The memo included CHWs in the list of essential critical infrastructure workers 
who are imperative during the response to the COVID-19 emergency for both public health and safety 
as well as community well-being. CHWs have unique skills, connections and knowledge to address 
the current pandemic and are involved as critical members of the Covid-19 response around the 
country. They can serve as a link between community resources, healthcare professionals, and 
patients; develop educational materials and promote public health campaigns; support and enhance 
social services being offered by agencies and faith-based organizations; and, apply their cultural 
humility and communication skills to work on contact tracing efforts. 


A Unique Lens


Community Health Workers (CHWs) foster communities to achieve health, equity, and social justice. They provide health services, increase access to care, and advocate for individuals and populations by serving as a voice among healthcare providers; they are able to represent their community members and describe the health, social, economic, political, and cultural issues that they face with authenticity and lived experience. This unique model not only builds trust with the people served, but also improves health outcomes.  
Project Hoffnung, for example, provides outreach to Amish and Mennonite communities in Ohio and has long-used CHWs in its work providing breast health information, free mammography screening, and the support needed for any follow-up. In 2018, two women who had been working with Project Hoffnung became certified through Ohio University’s Community Health Worker training program. Both women had strong relationships within the Amish and Mennonite communities and were eager to enhance their knowledge and receive certification through the Ohio Board of Nursing.  
In 2019, Ohio University was awarded grant-funding from the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) to train and serve justice-involved women through the Community Health Worker program. Community members in recovery and/or re-entry, as well as those passionate about serving this population, were recruited to be trained and complete their field hours in agencies serving justice-involved women. The ARC cohorts, in addition to their generalist curriculum, received specialized training including Naloxone administration, opioid use in Appalachia, and motivational interviewing.  
CHWs bring a unique lens to healthcare and social services. The Alliance anticipates growing its capacity to address the needs of additional specific populations with our community partners in the future. 


If you are interested in learning more about the program or would like to apply, please contact Kerri Shaw at for more information or to request a link to the application. A downloadable overview of the program can be found here.

Additional resources and information on community health workers can be found here.

Kerri Shaw
CHW Program Training Director

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