Community health workers (CHWs) have been on the front lines of health care delivery for decades, serving as a vital link between providers and the surrounding communities. This relationship has become even more important with the advent of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), as millions of Americans obtain access to care and providers are under increasing pressure to contain costs.
To explore options for increasing the role of CHWs in improving population health, NEHI partnered with the Jewish Healthcare Foundation (JHF), Rose Community Foundation and the Association of American Medical Colleges to convene a day-long meeting in October 2014 focusing on CHWs. A subsequent invite-only meeting was held in Pennsylvania in April 2015, hosted by JHF and supported by NEHI, to dive deeper into some of these issues and explore the opportunities for Pennsylvania.
This issue brief summarizes the history of CHWs and includes key findings from the October 2014 summit and April 2015 Pennsylvania meeting. The brief includes an analysis of:
• CHW Impact: As community health workers are increasingly incorporated in healthcare teams, a growing body of evidence attests to their impact. These studies are highlighted in this issue brief. For example, one study found that integrating CHWs into care teams lead to a 3:1 return-on-investment.
• Policy Actions: ACA included several provisions with impacts on CHWs, and several states have taken action to build infrastructure for CHWs. This issue brief details the policy that continues to evolve around CHWs.
• Training Standards: Because of the opportunities and funding created by policy change at the federal and state level, there are some questions about the nature of what it means to be a CHW. The issue brief details some of these questions and provides an examination of the opportunities to increase training and enhance professional recognition.
• Pioneers: The issue brief also highlights some of the exemplar models using CHWs to improve quality of care and reduce costs, including the Camden Coalition of Health Care Providers, the Penn Center for CHWs, and Hennepin Health.