Public Health Training Centers Partner with Community Health Worker Organizations to Train and Support the CHW Workforce

Public Health Training Center (PHTC) case studies demonstrate how partnering with Community Health Worker (CHW) supporting organizations can leverage existing training capacity (in Needs Assessment, Training Development and Delivery, and Student Placement in applied practice) to elevate the vital CHW workforce.

There is growing evidence that CHWs can improve their clients’ health behaviors and health outcomes, particularly within vulnerable communities, and that integrating CHWs into clinical care teams is a cost-effective practice. The CHW workforce has grown rapidly over the past several years, with projections for continued growth, especially in the era of COVID-19. Multiple entities have called for increased recognition, career development, training, and support for CHWs so they have the platform and resources needed to serve their communities.

As public health professionals in the field of workforce development, we have worked with many CHWs and their supporting organizations in the regions we serve. I, Marcia Morales, have been a promotora de salud (CHW) and see the need and benefits of partnerships across sectors for a strong and sustainable CHW workforce. I, Karla Todd Barrett, have worked though partnership to develop and deliver training in many modalities on current CHW topics relevant in Health and Human Services (HHS) Region I, and see the need for quality training for CHWs throughout their careers.

As a sub-awardee of Region 5 PHTC (Marcia) and Program Manager of the New England Public Health Training Center (NEPHTC) in Region 1 (Karla), we observe the benefits of partnering to bring improved training capacity to the generally tight-budgets of CHW organizations in our regions.

CHW supporting organizations are often associations or non-profits with few staff. Yet, these small organizations have strong relationships with CHWs, and have a deep and nuanced understanding of CHW roles, credentialing, training, and advocacy. Our article gives simple examples of how organizations or programs, such as university-based PHTCs can support and strengthen this important workforce segment by partnering.

PHTC Case Studies on CHW Work:

In our JPHMP article, we showcased three PHTCs’ recent CHW initiatives while sharing lessons learned that may be helpful for other organizations interested in initiating or strengthening CHW partnerships, thus helping to ensure a strong and sustained CHW workforce, thereby improving community health outcomes in their states and regions. Specifically, in three areas we found PHTCs could elevate the CHW workforce:

1. Region 6-South Central PHTC collaborated with community-based partners in the region to use state-specific CHW needs assessment data to better understand and address local CHW training needs. Oklahoma CHW survey respondents revealed a broad spectrum of roles and skills, including providing culturally appropriate health education and information (74.5%), conducting outreach (64.7%), and care coordination, case management, and system navigation (58.8%). In terms of public health skills training interests, respondents prioritized: persuasive communication (70.6%), resource management (64.7%), problem solving (62.7%), and policy engagement (62.7%).

2. Since 2016, Region 1-NEPHTC has partnered with state and local CHW supporting organizations to deliver more than 35 training programs including webinars, self-paced programs, and online workshops. Together, the PHTC and CHW partners identify training needs and subject matter experts, and design, develop, deliver, and evaluate programs based on learning quality standards. To date, the trainings have received positive feedback. Of the 3502 participants completing evaluations, the mean for those who agreed or strongly agreed that the training information was presented in ways they could clearly understand was 91.1% (range: 84.2%-100%). The mean for those who agreed or strongly agreed that they were satisfied with the training overall was 88.4% (range: 78.4%-100%).

3. Region 5 PHTC placed three health professions students with University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute’s Mobilizing Action Toward Community Health (MATCH) Group, to contribute to statewide efforts supporting Wisconsin’s CHW workforce. The placements brought the voices and role of CHWs into the academic experience of early-career professionals. The students worked to collect quantitative and qualitative data, review literature, and contribute to writing related to coalition building, curriculum development, and advocacy. Outcomes indicate how these projects contributed to the broader work of the MATCH-Wisconsin Department of Health Services Chronic Disease Prevention Program (WI DHS CDPP) collaboration and the Wisconsin CHW Network. Feedback from student surveys indicated that the placements were an opportunity for them to learn about CHWs as a profession. One student showed a new perspective: “I feel it is part of my duty as a public health professional to … promote … these critical frontline workers.”

Moving forward – how can PHTCs, and other programs and funders, elevate the CHW workforce?

Our case studies illustrate how PHTCs’ expertise in public health workforce development – specifically needs assessment, training design, development, delivery, and evaluation, and student field placements – can support CHW partner organizations and CHWs. As credentialing processes for CHWs evolve across the country, partnering (with PHTCs and other organizations) may be an effective way to augment the training available through CHW organizations to ensure CHWs can develop the skills they need to meet region-specific needs.

There is an opportunity for PHTCs and other organizations to promote the strengths, unique capabilities, and value of the CHW workforce and such organizations should do whatever they can to feature this expertise. In fact, doing so, may help elevate understanding of the importance of the workforce and support advocacy efforts for the sustainability of the CHW workforce.

But in supporting CHWs/CHW organizations, it is important for partnering organizations to spend time getting to know CHWs and their representative organizations rather than assuming they understand what CHWs may need. By attending and supporting CHW events, and showcasing the important work and skills of the workforce, partnerships can develop that benefit CHWs, CHW organizations, partner organizations, and, most importantly, the communities served by CHWs.

Read the Report in the Journal of Public Health Management and Practice:

Marcia Morales Villavicencio, MPH, is the Wisconsin Community Health Worker Outreach Coordinator with the Mobilizing Action Toward Community Health (MATCH) Group of the Population Health Institute. This role is a partnership with the Wisconsin Department of Health Services Chronic Disease Prevention Program (WI DHS CDPP) to support the sustainability of the statewide Community Health Worker (CHW) workforce and support statewide CHW initiatives and partnerships.

Karla Todd Barrett, MBA, MSM, is the Senior Program Manager and Training Specialist at the Boston University School of Public Health (BUSPH). She manages overall operations and partnerships for HRSA-funded New England Public Health Training Center (NEPHTC). In the past year, NEPHTC reached over 60,000 participants, through 500+ trainings, in collaboration with health departments, associations, and other academic institutions, reaching a diverse public health professional workforce.