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.

CHW Venn Diagram
CHW Venn Diagram

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.

Alliance members have developed the following definition:

“Community Health Workers (CHWs) come from the communities they serve, building trust and vital relationships. This trusting relationship enables the CHWs to be effective links between their own communities and systems of care. This crucial relationship significantly lowers health disparities in Minnesota because CHWs: provide access to services, improve the quality and cultural competence of care, create an effective system of chronic disease management, and increase the health knowledge and self sufficiency of underserved populations.”

The Minnesota CHW workforce reflects the many faces of our state. CHWs represent immigrant and refugee groups from Africa, Latin America and Southeast Asia as well as African-American, American Indian, Caucasian, and deaf communities.

American Public Health Association (APHA) Definition

As defined by the Community Health Worker Section of the American Public Health Association:

“A Community Health Worker (CHW) is a frontline public health worker who is a trusted member of and/or has an unusually close understanding of the community served. This trusting relationship enables the CHW to serve as a liaison/link/intermediary between health/social services and the community to facilitate access to services and improve the quality and cultural competence of service delivery.

A CHW also builds individual and community capacity by increasing health knowledge and self-sufficiency through a range of activities such as outreach, community education, informal counseling, social support and advocacy.”

For more information, visit the APHA CHW Section website.