TOPEKA – As a deafblind translator in Spain, Ton Miras Neira finds the need for more health professionals focused on empowering and understanding under-represented communities.
So when Neira came to the United States in 2012, he began his career as a community health worker – public health officials who are either trusted members of the community or have an unusually close understanding of those they serve. Miras worked in hospitals, working in the emergency department, but also spent time with patients in their homes, building relationships and developing more competent care plans.
Neira, who works as a project manager for a health worker at the University of Kansas Medical Center, said this could ensure successful treatment where they could otherwise fail.
“Sometimes it seems (doctors) don’t understand why their client is on diabetes, but the results are not good and as a community health worker you go home and see that they are still drinking fizzy drinks or not working,” Neira said. “No provider or any staff, medical staff who are in the hospital or clinic, go out into the community to do that.”
This year, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment announced a new certification for these health professionals, the first in the state to recognize the role they play in connecting communities with health and social services. The development of the certification involved more than 40 members of the Kansas Community Health Workers Coalition and lasted five years.
“Having a CHW certification process is key to enhanced career and future opportunities,” said Stephanie Olson, director of KDHE CHW, when announcing the certification.
KDHE said the certification working group was set up out of the need to explore certification paths and started on the Coalition Sustainability Committee.
To be eligible, residents must have a high school diploma or equivalent, although some exceptions may be made. They must also complete one of two paths – an educational path, including the completion of a KDHE-approved training program and a professional experience path that demonstrates 8,000 hours of three years of volunteering experience.
As we see the validation of CHW through the certification process, more groups such as the Governor’s Committee on Racial Justice and Justice will recognize the role that community health workers can play in addressing long-standing health disparities and improving health equity and access. to education and economics, “said David Jordan, president of the United Methodist Ministry of Health Fund.
Jordan said community health workers have been used since the 1960s, so they are not a new provider, but have been used in various ways at the community level.
Treva Smith, KC CARE Health Coordinator, highlighted the move as a key step in bringing Kansas to the forefront of culturally competent care.
“Certification and education are huge, so I’m very proud to say that Kansas is right there in the top five, at least 10, of the states that are making progress with the health workforce in the community,” Smith said.
Cultural competence and financial benefits
Smith saw first-hand the benefits of culturally competent care in a previous role in the Kansas Breastfeeding Coalition. In some cultures, people don’t even think about breastfeeding, she said.
“Introducing something that’s relatively simple for women and has such huge health benefits is great,” Smith said. “Safe sleep is another. We just do what we’ve always done or what we’ve seen done, but when you can talk to someone and really spend that time with them, help them understand and provide them with the resources they need to to do so, i.e. a change in the game. “
By embedding in local hospitals and health centers, community health workers can connect the dots and tackle cultural dilemmas, bridging the gap between the health system and clients, Smith said.
Neira said securing proper representation among CHWs is the first step he and his team are taking at KU Med, which has nearly 60 health workers in Kansas. Before hiring someone, they check the demographics of different countries and conduct interviews based on the uniqueness of the community they want to serve.
“We have a CSW in Fini County that comes from the Afghan community, and we have CHWs that are Latin American, and we have CHWs that represent the African-American community,” Neira said. “If you don’t have that, you’re not dealing with the cultural barrier.”
In addition to cultural benefits, community health workers can also provide financial relief to the state by removing pressure on emergency care systems, providing increased primary and preventive care, and better management of chronic diseases. A Study of the University in Penn 2020 found for every dollar invested in community health professionals, there is a return on investment of $ 2.47.
“They also save money for individual providers because they are able to make sure that they provide this really important connection at the community level to patients who do not exist within the four walls of their clinic or hospital, which is what drives the fact. that Americans are so unhappy with the health care system, “Jordan said.