IDPH provides $10 million to community health workers in Illinois to expand their mission

SPRINGFIELD (WGEM) – The Illinois Public Health Association and Illinois Primary Health Care Association have helped train 650 people to become health workers in their communities during the COVID-19 pandemic. These pandemic health navigators served people in 92 counties, but some feared their work would end without funding.

The Illinois Department of Public Health on Thursday provided $10 million to the Pandemic Health Navigation Program to help community health workers stay on duty in 27 counties. This announcement came on the same day the program was originally scheduled to end.

Dr. Tracey Smith, director of community health for the Illinois Public Health Association, said many community health workers hired earlier in the pandemic have taken on new jobs using the skills they learned through the program. . Smith said she is grateful to Gov. JB Pritzker and IDPH for working with health officials to find enough funding to continue this work.

“We were fortunate to receive a few grants that will allow us to continue much of the work that pandemic health navigators have done around the social determinants of health and addressing these health disparities. said Smith. “Whether it’s food, housing, mental health support, it’s across the gamut.”

Smith noted that this funding will keep people on the ground who understand these concepts and can help people receive the resources they need. Health care organizations plan to train new community health workers interested in joining the effort. They also plan to train all workers to educate the public about COVID-19 vaccinations and help people with chronic conditions like diabetes and hypertension.

The Health Equity Pandemic Health Navigator Project will be available in Alexander, Boone, Cass, Clay, Douglas, Fayette, Franklin, Hardin, Henderson, Jackson, Jefferson, Kane, Kankakee, Lake, Lawrence, Macon, Marion, Perry, Pope, Pulaski, Rock Island, St. Clair, Saline, Union, Vermillion, White and Winnebago. Smith said there are still 450 community health workers, but they hope to recruit more neighbors to have a staff of 500.

Community organizations like the NAACP and the Illinois Migrant Council have worked with the Illinois Primary Health Care Association to expand health care services in underrepresented communities during the pandemic. Theresa Haley, state chair of the NAACP, said community health workers have helped address health care deserts across the state. Haley said the NAACP held a back-to-school physical program with black doctors and medical students from the SIU Medical School.

“One of the doctors told me he’s never seen so many kids come in one day,” Haley said. “She said it looked like something you would see in another country. We probably served 350 kids that day. This grant made our communities realize that there is a disparity, and now America is watching.

Haley pointed out that health equity is certainly important in improving outcomes for people from black and brown communities. Maggie Rivera, president and CEO of the Illinois Migrant Council, says community health workers have helped break down barriers.

“We are removing beliefs that are myths more than they are truth,” Rivera said. “So we are able to build confidence in the medical field that our Hispanic communities or other Latin American countries or other recently arrived refugees may have and they develop hesitations not only to get vaccinated but also to go to a doctor.”

Rivera noted that educating and connecting the public to resources helps everyone. Dr. Smith noted that educating health care providers in other systems about cultural specifics can help them answer questions in a way that builds greater trust with patients.

More than 137,000 Illinoisans have been assisted by community health workers since March 2021. The Illinois Public Health Association says most of those requests for assistance were responded to within 48 hours. About 40% of people hired to become public health navigators were unemployed. The IPHA also said nearly 60% of community health workers identify as non-white.

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