Strategies to Support Community Health Worker Sustainability
How three innovators mitigate challenges in clinical and community settings
Community Health Workers (CHWs) are front-line public health professionals who have a deep understanding of their neighborhoods and serve as effective liaisons between healthcare, social services and the community. Though CHWs play an increasingly important role in improving health outcomes and reducing overall costs, long-term sustainability of these roles remains elusive for many health systems, local governments, health plans and social service organizations.
To gain a deeper understanding of the barriers to sustaining CHW roles in clinical settings — and identify strategies to mitigate those challenges — Health Leads interviewed leaders from three organizations* that have taken a creative approach to their community-facing workforce:
- Virginia Commonwealth University Health System (VCU Health): Integrated health system that uses Outreach Workers both in the emergency department to facilitate connections to primary care and in internal medicine outpatient practices to support high risk, high need patients.
- Oregon Health & Sciences University (OHSU): Academic health system that employs CHWs at its Richmond FQHC site to outreach to patients who are not engaged in care — and to universally screen and support patients with unmet essential resource needs.
- Children’s Hospitals & Clinics of Minnesota (Children’s MN): Employs Resource Navigators in five clinics across two locations to support patients and families who screen positive for an essential need, helping to connect them to resources in the community.
Though their CHW initiatives varied in scope, placement and population served, we uncovered five common CHW sustainability strategies across all three health systems.
*Significant credit and gratitude to our contributors:
- Jessica Block, Manager of Community Health Programs, Children’s Hospital & Clinics of Minnesota
- Kimberly Lewis, Community Outreach Manager, Virginia Commonwealth University Health System
- Jennifer Schlobohm, Behavioral Health Supervisor, Oregon Health & Sciences University
- Lia Sebring, Social Determinants of Health Coordinator, Oregon Health & Sciences University