Great Health Divide | Community health workers help provide the ‘missing link’ in EKY
BEATTYVILLE, Ky. (WKYT) – Whether it’s helping someone with their medication or enrolling them in the Do not call list, being a community health worker has a broad definition.
“We’re not limited to health care alone,” said Samantha Bowman, a certified community health worker, or CHW. “Whatever the need: if you need shoes, we help you find shoes; transport; dental; The list is lengthened increasingly. If there’s something we don’t do on a daily basis and you need some resources or guidance, we’d love to help.
The day when WKYT’s Garrett Wymer visited on Kentucky House Beattyville office, the chairs inside were empty, but Bowman kept busy – filling out forms, making calls and answering questions to help her clients.
‘Bridging the Great Health Divide’ showed the impact that a lack of resources and access to health care can have on communities. But sometimes the resources are there and people just don’t know how to access them.
[RELATED COVERAGE | Bridging the Great Health Divide]
This is exactly the problem that community health workers – trained lay health workers who can help people get the care, medicine, education or other resources they need to stay healthy – try to solve.
“You have clients coming into your office and they’ve been everywhere and can’t get any help,” Bowman said. “They expect us to have the answers they can’t get anywhere else and to speak to them at a level they can understand.”
The pandemic has changed Bowman’s days — she makes fewer house calls now; she sent masks to customers; she spent a lot of time encouraging people to get vaccinated – and it also showed how important these CHWs are for those who depend on them.
“Really, they’re there to fill the void where the programs don’t exist,” said Mace Baker, director of Kentucky Homeplace.
Kentucky Homeplace isn’t the only organization with CSAs in the Commonwealth. It is, however, the largest and oldest, officials said. Currently, Kentucky Homeplace has 22 CHWs serving 30 Eastern Kentucky Counties.
CHWs are trained and certified by the state Department of Public Health.
“There’s a lot of trust that’s been built and there’s a lot of experience that these community health workers have,” Baker said.
CHWs play a variety of roles, such as insurance “assistants” and nutrition and health educators. They also help people get the medicine – often insulin – they need, or even other necessities like glasses or boxes of food.
[RELATED COVERAGE | Managing diabetes and the rising cost of insulin]
“Little things, little minor things, can help keep people out of the hospital, can help keep them healthy,” Baker said. “I think that’s where community health workers come in.”
Kentucky Homeplace is funded by the Cabinet for Health and Family Services, Baker said, and this year the firm expanded its investment, allowing Kentucky Homeplace to hire 10 additional CHWs (in addition to the firm also placing additional CHWs in d other health services).
Their goal is to allow three to float as needed, fill health worker gaps spanning multiple counties, add a second CHW for Pike County (the state’s largest by land area), and d to hire CHWs for three new counties: McCreary, Montgomery and Whitley. .
Studies cite ‘growing evidence’ that CHWs are effective and versatile tools for improving the health of a community.
In her 13 years as a community health worker, Bowman has seen the needs of her community change. Back then, before the Affordable Care Act and the expansion of Medicaid, many clients did not have insurance. Now, she says, most do, but many still can’t afford the deductible, or the medications they need (like insulin) aren’t covered.
For Bowman, the reason she does this work is personal. Beattyville is his hometown and his mother was even a community health worker there for a decade.
“I actually sat on the other side of the desk,” Bowman said. “I came to visit him one day and I was actually smoking. She told me about smoking. Of course I knew it was wrong, I knew I didn’t need to do it. We talked about preventative things and she helped me get medication – Chantix – to help me quit.
Now she serves as the resource to help her neighbors get the resources they need.
“It’s in my blood,” she said, “and I knew I had to do it too.”
Contact your community health worker here.
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