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CHW Health Disparities Initiative

Role of Community Health Workers

How Will CHWs
Affect Change?

The Initiative provides CHWs with creative strategies, materials, and tools for training, educating, and changing lifestyle behaviors so CHWs can be active promoters of health in their community.

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.

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%

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

CHWs Take Action to Promote Heart Health in the Community

The Initiative’s health education materials are designed to be taught by CHWs, who are trained to use these materials to help community residents improve their quality of life by adopting heart healthy behaviors.

With the help of the Initiative, CHWs are able 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 the community can promote heart health.
  • Teach people how to prepare heart healthy meals, get more physical activity, and stop smoking.

In addition to CHWs, other professionals use our materials too, such as registered dietitians, nutritionists, and nurses.

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1 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Health Resources and Services Administration, Bureau of Health Professions. (2007). Community Health Worker National Workforce Study. pdf document icon (PDF, 1.1 MB)

Last Updated: June 2014