Community-Health-Worker-research-shows-need-for-professional-advocacy

Community Health Worker research shows need for professional advocacy

More than 1,700 Community Health Workers in 47 states participated in a recent survey that found their profession needs concerted advocacy efforts in order for it to thrive, according to a study recently published online in the Journal of Ambulatory Care Management.

The study is the largest survey of Community Health Workers (CHWs) to date and was led by the Arizona Prevention Research Center with contributions from the Tulane Prevention Research Center's Ashley Wennerstrom, collaborating faculty, and Catherine Haywood, community engagement program manager.

"This study shows the importance of creating opportunities for CHWs to develop as a profession and as individuals," Haywood said. "CHWs are the frontline workers for many health issues. So it's important that CHWs are recognized and supported by their employers, as well as by national, state, and local governments."

For the past 50 years, CHWs have been addressing health inequities among marginalized populations in communities all over the nation. Using the National Community Health Worker Advocacy Survey (NCHWAS), researchers at the University of Arizona and Tulane assessed CHW professional associations.

Historically members of emerging professions, CHWs in this case, are expected to promote their own workforce advancement. That advocacy was seen to be more prevalent in CHWs supported by a professional network or association.

Approximately one-third of the CHWs who participated in the survey have engaged in professional advocacy, and there is a strong correlation between that engagement and a membership in a CHW association. CHWs affiliated with a professional network were four times more likely to advocate on their behalf compared with non-members.

Additionally, the CHWs reported advocating for their profession in staff meetings, with local agencies, and at public health conferences. Many of the respondents felt other health professionals did not fully understand the role and impact of CHWs in a clinical setting or as a member of a health care team. And some respondents reported concerns about compensation and a lack of opportunities to advance into higher-paid positions. "My family earns below poverty level," one community health worker from Oregon reported in the survey. "I am part of the priority population so my work is always very real to me and my lived experiences."

"There is emerging evidence from around the country that CHWs can advocate for advancing the CHW workforce, and the American Public Health Association supports CHW self-determination," Wennerstrom said. "The best way to support CHWs in Louisiana is to encourage them to organize themselves and to ensure that they lead decision making regarding their workforce."

Click here to read more about the study in the Journal of Ambulatory Care Management.

By Kevin Crooks, graduate student, Tulane School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine

(Tulane PRC staff photo: Catherine Haywood, Tulane PRC community engagement program manager, speaks with a community member at a greenhouse celebration in 2012 for Good Food, an urban farm and small business in New Orleans’ Treme neighborhood.)

Topics:   community health , policy , health communication

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