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 a partnership between Sanofi US, CHW leaders and allies, 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 is long overdue.
In recent decades, CHW leaders have laid the foundation for developing a national organization through volunteer-based efforts, including the American Association of CHWs (2007-2009) and Unity. NACHW is now expanding upon this work, with CISWH providing capacity-building resources. CISWH’s involvement includes strategic planning, conducting a comprehensive national survey of CHW membership organizations, providing BU faculty representation on the NACHW steering committee, serving as a liaison to legal services, and managing Sanofi’s fiscal sponsorship.
Project Team Members
- Geoffrey W. Wilkinson, M.S.W.
- Principal Investigator; Clinical Associate Professor at the Boston University School of Social Work