Community health workers can help hospitals improve outcomes

Since many readmissions stem from social factors outside of hospitals' control, community health workers (CHW) can have a significant influence on the health outcomes of low-income and underserved populations, concluded University of Arizona public health researchers.

CHWs have close ties with community members and, armed with the proper support and leadership and advocacy training, they can use their knowledge of the policy issues and health inequities within their neighborhoods to foster advancements in care, UA News reported.

"Community health workers have a particularly close relationship with community members. They have the pulse of the community and really understand what's happening, the underlying root causes of heath or disease," lead author, Samantha Sabo, a researcher with the Mel & Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health's Arizona Prevention Research Center, told UA News.

Hospitals may add more community health workers to their employee ranks, given CWHs can perform nonclinical tasks now completed by higher trained and higher-paid caregivers. For example, they can ensure patients attend medical appointments, fill and take their prescriptions, and have basic necessities, such as food and housing, Hospital &Health Networks Daily reported.

"No longer is it OK to work only with the individual and expect that that individual has all the resources to be healthy. You have to think about those broader determinants that make or break our health," Sabo said to UA News.

Recognizing this, Temple University Health System, a four-hospital academic health system in Philadelphia, graduated its first class of 34 CHWs in December who work in primary care, specialty practices and the emergency department, according to H&HN Daily. The CHWs work full-time for $13-an-hour with health coverage and other benefits, while training per worker costs about $6,000.

But as H&HN Daily noted, the industry still lacks hard data to show whether CHWs effectively improve readmissions and other quality measures.

For more:
- here's the H&HNDaily article
- read the UA News article