The National Association of Community Health Workers (NACHW) aims to unify the voices of community health workers (CHWs) and strengthen the profession’s capacity to promote healthy communities. NACHW grew out of years of organizing by national CHW leaders and allies, with financial support starting in 2016 from Sanofi US with grants managed by Boston University School of Social Work, and the Center for Innovation in Social Work & Health (CISWH).
CHWs play a unique role in promoting health equity, increasing access to care, improving health outcomes, and lowering healthcare costs. They are particularly effective with high-risk, high-cost patients, including patients from low-income communities and communities of color. A CHW’s work can include serving on interdisciplinary care teams to help patients manage chronic diseases, helping patients navigate complex care systems, addressing access to food and housing, and reaching vulnerable populations outside of a healthcare setting. Their work is complementary to that of social workers, and embodies many of the same values, rooted in social justice.
CHWs have become a subject of intense focus among policy makers, providers, and payers in efforts to promote health system transformation. A growing body of research demonstrates their value in areas such as reducing hospital readmissions and the use of emergency services.
Yet despite their impact, CHW wages are generally low, job security is limited, and respect within work settings is often lacking. The CHW workforce is disproportionately composed of women of diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds. Credentialing programs, training, financing, care models, and a host of other foundational elements of workforce development are being established across the country without adequate representation of CHW leaders. The development of an organized national voice for CHWs was long overdue.
CHW leaders laid the foundation for developing a national organization through volunteer-based efforts, including development of a CHW section of the American Public Health Association (APHA), creation of the American Association of CHWs (2007-2009), networking and planning through the national Unity Conference, and successful policy advocacy to promote CHW workforce development. Key policy achievements included adoption of a nationally accepted definition of CHWs through the APHA and creation of a U.S Department of Labor standard occupational classification for CHWs.
Through the tireless efforts of a voluntary founding board of directors, and with funding from Sanofi and institutional support from CISHW, NACHW was incorporated as a 501(c)(3) organization in 2019. It hired its inaugural executive director that fall and has since grown to become a major national force, working closely with multiple federal agencies, health policy organizations, health care providers, and major corporations. NACHW played a significant role in COVID response and is deeply engaged in advancing health equity, community health, and CHW workforce development through contracted research, training, education, and advocacy. The organization has over 3,000 members nationwide, a growing full time staff, and a budget of over $4 million.
Clinical Associate Professor Geoff Wilkinson, director of the CISHW Leadership Core, served as PI for Sanofi grants that supported NACHW’s organizational development and was a founding member of the board of directors. He provided strategic planning support and served on the executive committee as NACHW’s treasurer through August, 2023, when the last cohort of founders rotated off the board to make way for new leadership. BUSSW/CISHW has served as a sponsor of the Unity conference for several years and maintains support for NACHW’s policy advocacy and workforce promotion initiatives.
Project Team Members
- Geoffrey W. Wilkinson, M.S.W.
- Principal Investigator; Clinical Associate Professor at the Boston University School of Social Work