Public health training centers partner with community health worker organizations to train and support CHW staff

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Case studies from the Public Health Training Center (PHTC) demonstrate how partnering with community health worker (CHW) support organizations can leverage existing training capacity (in needs assessment, development and delivery of training and placement of students in applied practice) to elevate the critical workforce of CHWs.

There are growing evidence that CHWs can improve the behaviors and health outcomes of their clients, especially within vulnerable communities, and that integrating CHWs into clinical care teams is a profitable practice. The CHW workforce has grown rapidly in recent years, with projections of continued growth, especially in the age of COVID-19. Several entities have requested an increase recognition, career development, training and support for CHWs so they have the platform and resources 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 in partnership to develop and deliver training in many modalities on current CHW topics relevant to Health and Human Services (HHS) Region I, and see the need for quality training for CHWs throughout their careers.

As a PHTC Subrecipient in Region 5 (Marcia) and Program Manager of the New England Public Health Training Center (NEPHTC) in Region 1 (Karla), we see the benefits of partnership bringing improved training capacity to the generally tight budgets of CSA organizations in our regions.

CHW support organizations are often associations or not-for-profit organizations with few staff. Yet these small organizations have strong relationships with CHWs and have a deep and nuanced understanding of CHW roles, credentials, training, and advocacy. Our article provides simple examples of how organizations or programs, such as university PHTCs, can support and strengthen this important segment of the workforce by partnering together.

PHTC case studies on the work of CHWs:

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

1. South Central Region 6-PHTC worked with community partners in the region to use state-specific CHW needs assessment data to better understand and meet local CHW training needs. Oklahoma CHW Survey Respondents revealed a wide range of roles and skills, including providing culturally appropriate health education and information (74.5%), raising awareness (64.7%), and coordinating care , case management and system navigation (58.8%). In terms of interest in public health skills training, respondents prioritized: persuasive communication (70.6%), resource management (64.7%), problem solving (62, 7%) and political commitment (62.7%).

2. Since 2016, 1-NEPHTC region partnered with national and local CSA support organizations to provide more than 35 training programs including webinars, self-paced programs and online workshops. Together, 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 3,502 participants who completed the assessments, the average of those who agreed or strongly agreed that training information was presented in a way they could clearly understand was 91.1% (range: 84.2% to 100%). The average of those who agreed or strongly agreed that they were overall satisfied with the training was 88.4% (range: 78.4% to 100%).

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

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

Our case studies illustrate how PHTC’s expertise in public health workforce development – ​​specifically needs assessment, design, development, delivery and evaluation of training and field placements students – can support partner organizations of CSAs and CSAs. As CHW accreditation processes evolve across the country, partnering (with PHTCs and other organizations) can be an effective way to increase the training offered by CHW organizations to ensure that 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 capacities and value of the CHW workforce and these organizations should do all they can to showcase this expertise. In fact, it can help to better understand 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 that partner organizations spend time getting to know the CHWs and their representative organizations rather than assuming they understand what CHWs may need. By participating in and supporting CSA events and showcasing the important work and skills of the workforce, partnerships can develop that benefit CSAs, CSA organizations, partner organizations, and most importantly , to 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 at 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 Community Health Worker (CHW) workforce across the state and support statewide CSA initiatives and partnerships.

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

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