“We’re actually seeing a number of hospitals and health systems that are also engaging community health workers, but the position is really non-clinical,” Henderson said. “They are focused on addressing the whole person, so what those needs of different vulnerable populations might be, whether it’s accessing food or helping to make a connection for housing or employment or if they need a medical home, they become that care coordinator across all the social determinants of health.”
About 16,000 openings for health education specialists and community health workers are projected each year, on average, over the decade, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. Many of those openings are expected to result from the need to replace workers who transfer to different occupations or exit the labor force, such as to retire.
The Dayton Regional Pathways HUB is tracking outcomes for more than 800 patients involved in this care coordination model.
“I have a family who did not have a family doctor. They were using the emergency room as their family doctor, so I was able to connect them to a PCP, a family provider,” said Jocelyn Cooke, a community health worker at Dayton Children’s. “A lot of times, they use the ER only when they get sick, but by having a family doctor, they get their annual check-ups to maybe prevent some future health issues in the future.”
Cooke, who has been a community health worker for five years, got into the field because he loves connecting with people, many of whom are also from his own local community.
“I love working with people. I love families, helping families connect to the different resources in the area,” Cooke said. “So many families don’t know what’s out here, and some of them just don’t have the tools to access the resources, so I love connecting them to the resources in our area and our community.”
While some barriers to improved health outcomes are things like transportation, housing, and insurance coverage, another can be language. Jean de Dieu Mukunzi, who is the founder and executive director of Ebenezer Healthcare Access, experienced that barrier himself, so he decided to help others navigate the US health system after he became educated on it.
“When I came here, I struggled to know how I can get the resources because of the language barrier, and then I went to school so I can be able to know how the healthcare system works here in America,” Mukunzi said. “Then, after my studies, I was able to start to help Americans and non-English-speaking people to navigate the health care system.”
Mukunzi, who has been a community health worker since 2012, speaks seven languages, and he and his team frequently work with people from Latin America, Russia, Ukraine, sub-Saharan Africa, and India.
Local colleges have also been taking note of this growing trend. Kettering College landed a $1.8 federal grant from the US Health Resources and Services Administration to train community health workers, and they are currently accepting applications for the fall 2023 semester. Tuition and various wrap-around services are covered by the grant to help remove preventative barriers, according to a Kettering College news release.
CareSource and Central State University also partnered to launch a certificate program to train community health workers earlier this year, and the first students from that program received their certificates on June 8.
“I’m really excited about it. It is a big step for me,” said Taylor Prince, one of the students from that 12-week program. Prince is going to Central State in the fall, but the information he learned during the program is still something people are aware of, he said.
“Even if they don’t want to go out and work as a community health worker, they take the class themselves, it’s very educational. It’s something that I think everyone should have some knowledge of,” Prince said.