Making the Business Case: Community Health Workers Bridge Health Care Gap


[Music] Health care providers
and patients both benefit when community health workers build bridges that lead to better
care, fuller lives, and lower costs. Navigating health care systems
is challenging, especially for patients with a language
barrier or other problems understanding what chronic
diseases like diabetes, cancer, or heart disease
are and how to manage them. Some of us take for granted
that everyone understands how to take your
medications, how to take a medication list
with you to an appointment, if there’s preparation
for the appointment, and then know how to stay
with their treatment plan. Those are the kinds of things
that a community health worker actually helps address,
what we call health literacy. Research has shown that hiring
community health workers to be part of comprehensive
health care teams helps overcome these
and other challenges, leading to better
access to care, increased compliance,
increased quality of care, and reduced costs. One study estimates
that programs like these, that reduce the
need to see costly specialists, could lead to a nationwide cost
savings of 60 billion dollars a year. A study by Denver
Health shows that it saved $2.28 for every $1
invested in the program. A Baltimore program with
community health workers showed a 38 percent drop in
emergency room visits and a 30 percent drop in
hospitalizations, leading to a reduction
in Medicaid costs of 27 percent. Because they know the
culture, the language, and the particular challenges
of the communities they serve, community health
workers are uniquely suited to build bridges between
patients and health care professionals. Our community health
worker is bilingual. She spends many hours helping
them optimize their health. I am the link between the
provider and the clients. Before they go to the
doctor, they come to me and they ask me questions
about their conditions. Most of them don’t
speak English. I am not a doctor but I try to
help them to understand better their conditions. Community health
workers like Emma have varying job titles
including lay health advisor, peer educator,
promotora but have been similarly trained to offer
education, informal counseling, and support to patients
so that health care teams and providers can provide
the best possible care. We wish that we had
10 positions like this that we could spread
across the county and work with individuals that
just need additional support. She is always paying attention
to the kinds of health problems we have, like
cholesterol, and trying to advise us on how to
lower it. For health care
providers and patients, hiring one or more
community health workers may be the smartest investment
a health care team can make.

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