KY Community Health Worker Bill Gains Ground / Public News Service

Kentucky lawmakers are consider an invoice to allow Medicaid to reimburse certified community health workers (CHWs).

Proponents said it would help turn the tide for healthcare workers quit the job in the stress of the pandemic.

Celine Mutuyemariya, community policy strategist for the Urban League of Louisville, explained that CHW positions are often funded by grants, which can be difficult to maintain.

She argued that a more reliable source of funding would mean more CHWs would be available to meet healthcare needs, especially for people in underserved communities who might otherwise be reluctant to visit a doctor.

“What community health workers do is they help build trust with preventive health care systems,” Mutuyemariya explained. “Like having a primary care provider, having a dental provider and seeing them regularly.”

According to the Kentucky Association of Community Health Workers, the state saves more than $11 for every dollar invested in these services. And Centers for Disaster Control and Prevention research indicates that CHWs improve a wide range of health conditions for the people they serve, including diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and mental health.

The bill passed the Kentucky House and is now before the Senate Health and Welfare Committee.

Mutuyemariya emphasized that CHWs help people navigate the health system, access care and meet basic needs, so they don’t end up in hospital emergency rooms.

“Your entry point into health care services would be emergency health care services,” observed Mutuyemariya. “It’s the source, which has been standardized the most, and it’s not cost-effective. It’s not effective in terms of improving health outcomes.”

Tiffany Taul Scruggs, patient services outreach coordinator for Sterling Healthcare, said her team of CHWs were working around the clock in seven counties to ensure patients made their appointments during the pandemic, transporting nearly 1 300 people in 2020.

She added that many would otherwise end up in the emergency room or suffer from lack of care.

“They would go without food, access to food, or resources to feed themselves, to house themselves, to move around,” Taul Scruggs said. “They would do without it. I mean, they would completely do without it.”

The Kentucky bill would also broaden the pathway to higher education through the state’s community and technical college system to ensure that appropriate college credits are awarded to those who complete certified training in CSA.

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