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About CHWs

Who are Community Health Workers?

Community Health Workers (CHWs) are trusted, knowledgeable frontline health personnel who typically come from the communities they serve. CHWs bridge cultural and linguistic barriers, expand access to coverage and care, and improve health outcomes. As critical links between their communities and the health care system, CHWs reduce health disparities; boost health care quality, cultural competence and affordability; and empower individuals and communities for better health.

CHWs apply their unique understanding of the experience, language, and/or culture of the populations they serve in order to carry out one or more of the following:

  • Providing culturally appropriate health education, information and outreach in community-based settings, such as homes, clinics, schools, shelters, local businesses, and community centers
  • Bridging/culturally mediating between individuals, communities and health and human services, including actively building individual and community capacity
  • Assuring that people access the coverage and services they need
  • Providing direct services, such as informal counseling, social support, care coordination and health screenings
  • Advocating for individual and community needs

Increasingly, CHWs are becoming members of patient-centered health teams. Their cultural understanding and deep community reach can help improve health care cultural competence, impact care planning and results, and improve patient satisfaction and self-care.

“Providers appreciate what we do because we can follow up on a lot of things, such as referrals to other community services and make sure patients receive the care and/or information they need, which ultimately contributes to the work done by our care team in helping patients to achieve a healthier lifestyle. In a short visit, it’s impossible for the physician to take care of everything; we need a care team to assure that our patients receive the highest level of care”.

CHW Mariela Adremagni-Tollin, Hennepin County Medical Center East Lake Clinic, Minneapolis.

CHWs are an emerging workforce, newer to most “mainstream” public health and health care settings – but with deep roots in many communities. Known by a variety of titles such as outreach worker, care guide, community health advisor, peer educator, promotora (Latino communities) and community health representative (American Indian communities), CHWs provide outreach, health education, care coordination and advocacy for underserved patients of all ages.