Tompkins County Health Department looking to hire new community health workers

ITHACA, NY—A new position is being created within the Tompkins County Health Department (TCHD) as it begins to turn away from COVID-19 and focus on other projects.

The new post of Community Health Officer (CHW) was created to foster relationships between the health department and its services and the community. Community health workers have “traditionally supported marginalized populations to promote and ensure equitable access to public health resources and services,” according to the job description, which can be found here.

During the summer of 2021, TCHD piloted a program with four Public Health Ambassadors who assisted in the deployment of the COVID vaccine. “They really served as people who could be in the community to talk with people about the vaccine, answer questions about concerns, and make sure people were aware of pop-up clinics that might be easier to get to than the mall site,” Samantha Hillson, director of health promotion, said.

Each of the summer program’s public health ambassadors came from diverse backgrounds and had different interests, which proved helpful, Hillson said, when connecting with certain county populations. These diverse backgrounds are something the Ministry of Health will also look for in its community health workers in the future.

“[Each individual] had a different perspective and skills to add to the work we were doing, so the pilot was really successful,” Hillson said, adding that the in-person approach was one that was missing for much of the pandemic and will be used in the future to obtain information and communicate and connect effectively with the public.

Shannon Alvord, TCHD Communications Coordinator, said the department has been considering adding roles like this since before the pandemic and the success of the pilot program has encouraged the department to move forward with creating a more permanent role. “We needed to have more feet on the ground and we relied a lot on great partners and community organizations to provide us with information in the communities.

According to CDC CHW Online Resources.

Individuals in the CHW role will work directly with the Community Health Services Division, particularly with the Antenatal, Maternal and Early Childhood groups. “There’s a lot of interest in having a supportive role for expectant parents and increasing enrollment in these programs,” Hillson said. “These programs were suspended last year and they are slowly coming back. Part of that is raising awareness of these resources and increasing the number of people who use them.

The health department hopes to hire two community health workers initially, and two more later as the initiative grows, although Hillson said roles will be continually assessed before returning to director of Public Health Frank Kruppa for approval to proceed with the initiative.

Alvord said the similar timing of the community health worker role and health service merger is exciting, as the new frontline workers will not only help with public advocacy, but also the philosophical shift toward which the two departments work with “strong positions on a holistic approach to community well-being.

Distinguishing characteristics listed in the job description include promoting services such as immunizations, chronic disease prevention and self-management education, prenatal care and early childhood intervention, and navigating health care, among others, and TCHD seeks “the ability to continue to build community relationships and skills and motivation to gain the trust of members of our community who are not participating in the programs we have for many reasons different,” according to Hillson.

The Department of Health hosted a roundtable on March 16 on job postings in mental health and health departments that can be viewed here.

Application for Community Health Worker roles closes March 20, 2022 and TCHD hopes to train new staff by early April.

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