In this week’s “Best Practices” podcast episode, our hosts sit down with two members of the MidSouth PTN subject matter expert team, Tonya Elkins and Barbara Clinton, to discuss the role of a community health worker.
Tonya Elkins is the Director of Maternal Infant Health Outreach Worker Program, as well as an instructor in clinical nursing at Vanderbilt University School of Nursing. Barbara Clinton is the former Director of the Vanderbilt Center for Health Services, and she is a public health consultant. They both shared why they believe incorporating a community health worker is important for a patient’s health.
A patient’s home, community life, culture, and access to resources greatly impacts their health. However, these social determinants of health are not traditionally addressed by the healthcare system. This is where a community health worker comes in. They serve as a liaison between the physician and the patient to aid in addressing these social determinants. The community health worker ensures the patient is receiving the highest level of care and shores up the disconnect between the medical provider and the patient. The community health worker ultimately helps both the patient and the provider. The role provides a backup system of support allowing the physician to focus on what he or she is trained to do and treat.
The key qualification for a community health worker is that he or she is an individual who comes from, is rooted in, and is respected by the community of patients being served. The credibility based on cultural background and lived experience is essential. If a practice is working to build a program within its own clinic, a supervisor who is a champion of community health work and who knows public health principles is key. And this program needs to be built around a constant, perennial system of training. The community health worker is a vital part of value-based care and a healthcare system that treats the whole person. To learn more about the importance of a community health worker, listen to the full episode here.
The views expressed in this story are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of included persons or entities. Additionally, this work was funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services – Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services’ Transforming Clinical Practice Initiative, under grant number 1CMS331549-03-00. The contents provided are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of HHS or any of its agencies.