The Community Health Worker (CHW) movement began as a grassroots effort of community leaders working as intermediaries to help their families and neighbors access a healthcare system that sometimes fails to recognize cultural barriers to care. Recognition of the importance of CHWs is growing as more and more studies demonstrate the value of CHWs in improving health outcomes and reducing the cost of care for chronic disease management. As this recognition increases, groups like the American Public Health Association, the U.S. Department of Labor, the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Health Resources and Service Administration, and individual states who wish to employ the services of Community Health Workers have begun to refine and explore the role of the Community Health Worker.
Substantial evidence confirms that intervention models involving CHWs produce improved health outcomes. Rooted in the communities they serve, CHWs possess a unique understanding of how their communities function and how local resources, environment, and culture affect health. This enables them to complement the work of clinical healthcare teams by providing a broad range of services that facilitate access to healthcare, improve care quality, and address social determinants of health.
The CT AHEC Program has been involved with CHWs since 2000, when it conducted the first statewide survey of Connecticut’s CHWs and their employers. Since then, CT AHEC, with Southwestern AHEC as the lead, has worked with numerous partners to promote, train, and develop the CHW workforce. These efforts at development received a significant boost when CT AHEC was selected in 2014 to lead the CHW component of Connecticut’s State Innovation Model (SIM) Test Grant.
In 2016, the SIM-CHW Advisory Committee was created and charged with developing policies to promote the CHW workforce. Over the course of SIM, the committee adapted a definition for CHWs in CT, defined roles and skills, and ultimately developed recommendations for certification. In 2019, a bill incorporating these recommendations (Public Act 19-117) was signed into law declaring that, starting on January 1, 2020, there will a certification program for CHWs to be administered by the Department of Public Health (DPH).