Role of Community Health Workers
Community Health Workers (CHWs) are lay members of the community who work either for pay or as volunteers in association with the local health care system in both urban and rural environments. CHWs usually share ethnicity, language, socioeconomic status, and life experiences with the community members they serve. They have been identified by many titles, such as community health advisors, lay health advocates, promotoras, outreach educators, community health representatives, peer health promoters, and peer health educators. CHWs offer interpretation and translation services, provide culturally appropriate health education and information, help people get the care they need, give informal counseling and guidance on health behaviors, advocate for individual and community health needs, and provide some direct services such as first aid and blood pressure screening.1
Since CHWs typically reside in the community they serve, they have the unique ability to bring information where it is needed most. They can reach community residents where they live, eat, play, work, and worship. CHWs are frontline agents of change, helping to reduce health disparities in underserved communities.
Among the many known outcomes of CHWs’ service are the following:
- Improved access to health care services.
- Increased health and screening.
- Better understanding between community members and the health and social service system.
- Enhanced communication between community members and health providers.
- Increased use of health care services.
- Improved adherence to health recommendations.
- Reduced need for emergency and specialty services.1
Take Action to Promote Heart Health in the Community
CHW programs often include health education resources and training, shared learning, evaluation, and partnerships. These resources are designed to be used by CHWs who are trained to use them to help community members adopt heart healthy behaviors. The Heart Truth offers a range of materials to support train-the-trainer efforts and direct community outreach, including detailed curricula, picture cards, heart-healthy cookbooks, and other health education materials.
These resources are tailored to meet the cultural needs, health literacy, and language needs of diverse communities and help CHWs to:
- Help families understand their risk for developing heart disease.
- Help community members get appropriate screenings and referrals for health and social services.
- Track an individual’s progress toward meeting health goals.
- Hold workshops and group discussions to learn about ways to reduce risk factors for heart disease and improve their overall health.
- Teach people how to prepare heart-healthy meals, get more physical activity, stop smoking, and more.
In addition to CHWs, other health and community professionals such as public health educators, registered dietitians, nutritionists, and nurses can use these materials too.
Working to Reduce Heart Health Disparities
Heart disease risk factors, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, physical inactivity, overweight/obesity, diabetes, and smoking, can be prevented or controlled with healthy lifestyle choices. Racial and ethnic minority groups are disproportionately affected by premature deaths from heart disease compared to their white counterparts. The challenge becomes getting that message to the community and helping people take steps to make heart-healthy choices. Because changing lifestyle behaviors can help save lives, The Heart Truth supports heart health interventions in ethnically diverse groups through multicultural education resources.
Using science-based, culturally-tailored health education materials and strategies from The Heart Truth, CHWs can help reduce health disparities and become active promoters of health in their community. These resources were carefully designed and tested within the community to help ensure CHWs have the tools and messages they need to deliver health information and teach skills that can influence healthy behaviors and empower community members to prevent heart disease in themselves and their families.
HRSA CHW National Workforce Study Findings1
CHW-specific work activities involved:
- Culturally appropriate health promotion and health education 82%
- Assistance in accessing medical services & programs 84%
- Assistance in accessing non-medical services & programs 72%
- “Translation” 36%
- Interpreting 34%
- Counseling 31%
- Mentoring 21%
- Social support 46%
- Transportation 36%
Related to work activities, employer-reported duties:
- Case management 45%
- Risk identification 41%
- Patient navigation 18%
- Direct services 37%
1 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Health Resources and Services Administration, Bureau of Health Professions. (2007). https://bhw.hrsa.gov/sites/default/files/bureau-health-workforce/data-research/community-health-workforce.pdf