A Matter of Trust: Community Health Workers in West Philly
An elderly woman can’t afford to get to her doctor’s appointment, so Norma Gerald picks up the phone to help her get there. If a person is looking for ways to stay motivated with an exercise plan, they will be their gym buddy for the day. If people are gathered at the scene of a violent crime, she is there with a listening ear and the name of a good adviser.
The entire nation knows West Philadelphia as a source of black history and culture, but generations of gentrification, mass incarceration and other factors in the heavily black community have created persistent barriers to good health and well-being. As a resident of West Philly herself, Gerald knows these challenges well and knows how to tap into the strengths and resources of the community and its people to overcome them.
The tools may not be splashy, but they are powerful forces for good in West Philly. It’s where Gerald not only lives, but guides some of the most at-risk people in town to live longer, happier and healthier lives. Gerald is a senior community health worker to penn medicineand it’s all part of a day’s work.
Community health workers like Gerald perform a range of functions, including social support, patient advocacy, and healthcare system navigation, all with the goal of improving health. More broadly, they form a bridge between the health care delivery system and people with limited resources, like those in West Philly, who struggle with deep health inequities, not to mention deep distrust of a system who often didn’t have their best interests at heart.
“A community health worker is someone who has shared experiences with patients, who is able to connect and understand some of the experiences they have had,” says Gerald. “We’re always following up and making sure people are on track to achieve their health goals.”
As a member of The large black community of West Phillyand working with patients referred to him by four area Penn Medicine clinics, Gerald is not only aware but immersed in the myriad of challenges that worsen health there and impede access to care.
As a member of Penn home medicine company, community health workers are a part of Penn’s initiatives to provide quality care and improve health outside of hospital walls. According to Gerald, most of the patients she sees have chronic health conditions, including diabetes, kidney disease and high blood pressure. Risky behaviors like unhealthy weight management and smoking are common. This is the front line on which community health workers operate.
“We ask simple questions,” says Gerald. “We interview the patient to get an idea of who they are and their health needs, but also their likes and dislikes. We are simply trying to establish a relationship in order to better understand where the problem is coming from.
Read more on Penn Medicine News.