Community Health Worker Certification Opens Doors to Culturally Competent Care in Kansas

TOPEKA — As a deafblind interpreter in Spain, Ton Miras Neira saw the need for more health workers focused on empowering and understanding underrepresented communities.

So when Neira came to the United States in 2012, he began a career as a community health worker – frontline public health workers who are either trusted members of the community or an unusually understanding close to those they serve. Miras embedded himself in hospitals, working in the emergency room, but he also spent time with patients in their homes, building rapport and developing more competent care plans.

Neira, who works as a community health worker project manager at the University of Kansas Medical Center, said it can ensure treatments succeed where they might otherwise fail.

“Sometimes it’s like (doctors) don’t understand why their client is sticking to diabetes medication, but the results aren’t good, and as a community health worker, you go home and you see they are still drinking sodas or they are not working,” Neira said. the community to do this.”

This year, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment announced a new certification for these health workers, the first in the state to recognize the role they play in connecting communities to health and social services. Developing the certification involved more than 40 members of the Kansas Community Health Worker Coalition and took five years.

“Having a certification process for CHWs is essential to expanding career options and future opportunities,” KDHE CHW Section Director Stefanie Olson said when the certification was announced.

KDHE said a certification working group has been established to research certification pathways and has started within the coalition’s sustainability committee.

To be eligible, residents must have a high school diploma or equivalent, although some exceptions may be made. They must also follow one of two tracks – an education track involving completion of a KDHE-approved training program and a work experience track demonstrating 8,000 hours over three years of volunteer experience.

“As we see the validation of CHWs through the certification process, more groups like the Governor’s Commission on Racial Equity and Justice will recognize the role community health workers can play in addressing gender disparities. longstanding record in health, improving health equity, and improving access to education and the economy,” said David Jordan, president of the United Methodist Health Ministry Fund.

Jordan said community health workers have been used since the 1960s, so they are not a new provider, but they have been used in different ways at the community level.

Treva Smith, care coordinator for KC CARE, described the decision as a major step in bringing Kansas to the forefront of this issue of culturally competent care.

“The certification and education is huge, so I’m very proud to say that Kansas is in the top five, at least 10 for sure, of states making progress with community health workers,” Smith said. .

Cultural Competence and Financial Benefits

Smith saw firsthand the benefits of culturally competent care in a previous role with the Kansas Breastfeeding Coalition. In some cultures, people don’t even consider breastfeeding, she says.

“Introducing something that’s simple enough for women and has huge health benefits is wonderful,” Smith said. “Safe Sleep is another. We’re just doing what we’ve always done or what we’ve seen done, but when you can talk to someone and really take that time with them, help them understand, and provide them with the resources they need to doing is a game changer.”

By integrating into local hospitals and health centers, community health workers can connect the dots and solve cultural dilemmas, bridging the gap between the health system and clients, Smith said.

Neira said ensuring adequate representation among CHWs is the first step he and his team take at KU Med, where they have nearly 60 health workers across Kansas. Before hiring someone, they check the demographics of different countries and conduct interviews based on the uniqueness of the community they seek to serve.

“We have a CSW in Finney County who is from the Afghan community, and we have CHWs who are Latino, and we have CHWs representing the African American community,” Neira said. “If you don’t have that, you don’t address the cultural barrier.”

Beyond cultural benefits, community health workers can also provide financial relief to the state by easing pressure on emergency systems, providing increased primary and preventive care, and better chronic disease management. A Penn University Study 2020 found for every dollar invested in community health workers has a return on investment of $2.47.

“They also save individual providers money because they’re able to make sure they’re providing that really important community connection to patients who don’t exist within the four walls of their clinic or their home.” hospital, which is really what drives the fact that Americans are so dissatisfied with the healthcare system,” Jordan said.

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