Training Individuals to Work in their Communities to Reduce Health Disparities
Community health workers training program aims to increase access to health care services in underserved neighborhoods
Community health workers were trusted messengers, disseminating health information in underserved communities during the COVID-19 pandemic, and playing a vital role in reducing health disparities.
This form of outreach is the basis of a newly launched academic-community partnership, led by the Herbert Wertheim School of Public Health and Human Longevity Science at University of California San Diego and is funded by a $3-million Health Resources and Services Administration grant, that aims to train 200 individuals from refugee, immigrant, and Native American populations living in San Diego County to become community health workers on key health topics disproportionately affecting their communities.
“COVID-19 highlighted the need for individuals with culturally and linguistically competent skills to be engaged as community health workers within their own neighborhoods. At the urging of our community collaborators to design a certified training program, I felt responsibility to take that role and address health disparity that is negatively impacting these communities,” said Wael Al-Delaimy, M.D., Ph.D., professor at the Herbert Wertheim School of Public Health and Human Longevity Science, who is bilingual and an immigrant from the Middle East.
Nationally, San Diego is the second largest hub for immigrants from the Middle East and Somalia, two populations targeted by this program.
Al-Deliamy is the director of the newly funded initiative titled Community Health Workers for Advancing Public Health within Immigrant/Refugee and Native American Communities Program (CHWAP), which is a collaboration with the UC San Diego Division of Extended Studies, UC San Diego Altman Clinical and Translational Research Institute (ACTRI) Center for Community Health, Somali Family Service of San Diego, and more than 14 community organization partners.
The program will provide all-expenses paid training that will be held in combination of community settings, at the UC San Diego campus, and online.
Somali Family Service will recruit trainees from underserved communities and will provide additional services including transportation, childcare, mentorship and career services such as resume writing and cover letter development workshops. It will also assist participants to find living wage jobs.
“It is important for community members to access trusted messengers equipped with the capacity to holistically relate and respond to their needs and concerns while providing valuable and impactful services and solutions,” said Ahmed Sahid, president and CEO of Somali Family Service of San Diego.
“The Community Health Workers for Advancing Public Health within Immigrant/Refugee and Native American Communities Program significantly bolsters our community health workers’ efforts by ensuring they receive the training, tools and support necessary to uplift underserved and vulnerable communities.”
Community health workers are not medical or public health professionals. They are individuals who bridge culture, language and life experiences with public health, health care and the needs of the community in which they live.
The Herbert Wertheim School of Public Health competed and was selected to become part of a national network to develop capacity in training 13,000 community health workers through a $225 million HRSA program under the directive of the White House.
UC San Diego Division of Extended Studies will oversee the academic components of CHWAP, providing access to world-class training in health support, soft skills development, and leadership and self-care.
“We hope to train as many as 200 new community health workers over the next three years and are honored to work with the Herbert Wertheim School of Public Health and Human Longevity Science and our community partners to ensure a talented and diverse public health workforce and reduce healthcare disparities in our region,” said Laura B. Fandino, J.D., Ph.D., assistant dean of academic affairs, Division of Extended Studies.
Among the community organizations helping to recruit community health workers is the San Diego Refugee Communities Coalition, a collective of ethnic-community based organizations in San Diego County with a history of serving thousands of underserved refugee families and residents. The ACTRI Center for Community Health Refugee Health Unit serves as the backbone organization for the coalition.
CHWAP will provide an opportunity for expanded workforce development within refugee and underserved communities to improve access to health resources in a way that was unavailable prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, said Blanca Meléndrez, executive director of the ACTRI Center for Community Health and co-director of CHWAP.
“Community health workers can provide culturally competent, locally relevant services to individuals in their primary language which makes community members more comfortable and open to discussing sensitive topics,” said Amina Sheik-Mohamed, M.P.H., ACTRI Center for Community Health Refugee Health Unit director.
Chag Lowry, who is of Yurok, Maidu, and Achumawi Native ancestry from California, will be coordinating the program’s outreach and recruitment effort to Native Americans.
“Our Native American community suffered health inequity for decades and was hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. This is a welcome effort to build capacity in an effort to address the health equity gap,” said Lowry, administrative director of the California American Indian Tobacco Initiative Evaluation based at the Herbert Wertheim School of Public Health.
CHWAP will coordinate job placements and development of an apprenticeship program with hospitals, clinics and regional partners including the San Diego Workforce Partnership, said Eric Hekler, Ph.D., CHWAP co-director and associate dean for community partnerships at the Herbert Wertheim School of Public Health.
In addition, CHWAP is collaborating with the California Consortium for Urban Indian Health, the County of San Diego, Health Center Partners of Southern California, the Hospital Association of San Diego and Imperial Counties, and Family Health Centers of San Diego.
“Part of the mission of the Herbert Wertheim School of Public Health and Human Longevity Science is to collaborate with diverse partners to develop community-led health solutions,” said Hekler.
“The Community Health Workers for Advancing Public Health within Immigrant/Refugee and Native American Communities Program helps us cultivate our capacity to serve our local communities by training and supporting job placement of people within their neighborhoods as well as influence health inequities.”
Information about the program and how to enroll is available on the CHWAP website.
This program is supported by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of an award totaling $3 million with no other non-governmental sources. The contents are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by HRSA, HHS, or the United States government. For more information, please visit HRSA.gov
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