Tuesday, April 30, 2019
On Monday, April 15, 2019, the National Association of Community Health Workers (NACHW) officially launched at the Unity Conference in Las Vegas, NV. The organization aims to unify the voices of community health workers (CHWs) and strengthen the profession’s capacity to promote healthy communities.
NACHW grew out of a partnership between Sanofi US, CHW leaders and allies, and Boston University School of Social Work’s Center for Innovation in Social Work & Health, and builds upon decades of previous work by CHW leaders to establish a national professional organization.
CHWs play a unique role in promoting health equity, increasing access to care, and improving health outcomes. They are particularly effective at reaching patients from low-income communities and communities of color, as they are often trusted members of these communities or have a deep understanding of them, and can serve as a bridge to services.
“We know how to talk to our communities to get them to understand the value of health,” said Wandy Hernandez-Gordon, NACHW co-chair, at the launch event. “We know how to talk to people in hospitals to let them understand that the reason [a patient] is not doing x,y,z is maybe because of where they reside. Maybe there is danger in the community and that’s why they can’t walk a long distance, or maybe there’s no healthy, quality food.”
Despite increasing interest among policy makers, providers, and payers in efforts to promote health system transformation, the CHW workforce has experienced low pay, limited job security, and lack of recognition. “We don’t just work 9-5, we work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. A lot of us reside in the communities where we practice, and so we really needed to move forward in this effort,” said Hernandez-Gordon.
The new organization will provide professional development and networking opportunities for members, as well as develop policy positions and advocate for CHWs at the federal level.
CISWH’s involvement with NACHW has included strategic planning, conducting a comprehensive national survey of CHW membership organizations, serving as a liaison to legal services, and managing Sanofi’s fiscal sponsorship. Geoffrey W. Wilkinson, Clinical Associate Professor at the Boston University School of Social Work, serves on the NACHW board of directors.
CHWs affiliated with CISWH’s Improving Access to HIV Care Using CHWs project also presented at the Unity Conference on April 16. Savi Bailey of Legacy Community Health, Evelyn Nicholson of The Jacques Initiative, and Shala Perla of The McGregor Clinic discussed how their organizations successfully implemented new CHW programs to improve care for people living with HIV. Lourdes Yapjoco, Keanu Medina, and Merylyn Yegon of Southern Nevada Health District discussed their work with the Latinx community.