Community Health Workers: Who They Are and Why They Matter
Community Health Workers (CHWs) are frontline public health workers with limited formal education in healthcare and social services, but who are well positioned to make a difference in the fight to reduce health disparities. Their trusting relationships with individuals enable them to serve as liaisons between health and social services and the community to facilitate access to services and improve the quality and cultural sensitivity of service delivery. Although the CHW model is widely utilized across the globe, the U.S. and Illinois have only recently begun to recognize its importance and develop the infrastructure that supports these grassroots health workers.
The concept of "who they are" and "why they matter" is not widely understood by researchers and healthcare organizations/professionals. During her CAS appointment, Professor Schwingel will address the basic need of improving health communication. She will examine effective ways to communicate with both the academic and clinical audiences about CHWs—who they are and why they matter. She will develop audience-specific communication messages and approaches and establish appropriate language and imagery, leveraging connections and information from past and current work, sharing the results in the form of a website, commentary in a journal for the academic community, and a white paper for clinical stakeholders, and press attention. This work offers an opportunity to increase awareness, interest, respect, appreciation, and funding for CHWs, shedding light on the complex problem of the disparities in health and healthcare that are impacting communities of color in Illinois and the U.S.