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This group of workers could help turnaround quality of life — and the economy – CNN

Posted: February 11, 2021 at 6:55 am

CHWs are trustworthy individuals who come from the communities they serve. They are part of a Department of Labor classified workforce and unlike many other professions -- such as social workers and nurses -- they are not defined by training or licensure, but rather by who they are and what they do. Throughout the pandemic, CHW have served on the front lines, engaged in public health messaging and contact tracing, addressed broader social and health needs within their communities and could inform policy and system changes. Many are now working on the ground to ensure that marginalized people have reliable Covid-19 vaccine information and access. However, the impact of CHWs could be much greater. There are approximately 60,000 CHWs in the country, employed by grassroots organizations, hospitals, clinics or public health departments with funding from a patchwork of grants and pilot funding. Increasingly, policymakers have voiced support for investing in and mobilizing this workforce.A bipartisan group of congressional leaders urged the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to direct Covid-19 and Medicaid dollars to CHWs. In his campaign platform, President Joe Biden promised to create jobs for 150,000 CHWs from within some of America's hardest-hit urban and rural communities; Biden's recent pandemic response plan renews his commitment to including CHWs as part of a US Public Health Jobs Corps.Despite growing policy momentum, many Americans have never heard of CHWs. This oversight may in part be due to the fact that the CHW workforce is commonly black, brown, or rural white and may not have graduate degree letters behind their name. Yet, it is a mistake to overlook this important workforce. Here is what Americans need to know about CHWs, and how they can guide us through public health, economic and moral recovery.

Public health

CHWs have a flexible, holistic approach that is well-suited to this range of challenges. Imagine Maggie, a 43-year-old who has lost hours at her retail job due to the pandemic and can't make rent. Her son has autism and is having a difficult time being out of school. She has concerns about the safety of a Covid-19 vaccine and her ability to even access one. A CHW would get to know Maggie as a whole person. She would ask Maggie what she thinks would improve her life and health. And then she would work with Maggie to do those things: battle an eviction notice, introduce her to an autism support group and connect her with a good primary care provider who can talk her through the risks and benefits of a Covid-19 vaccine, as well as help ensure that she gets immunized when eligible.

Economic recovery

As the Covid-19 pandemic was emerging as a threat to the US, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) predicted healthcare costs would soar past $4 trillion by the end of 2020, consuming over 20% of GDP. A large part of this spending comes from Medicaid which has surpassed Medicare for the number of enrollees as the largest public payer of healthcare in this country.

Moral recovery

A path forward

There are few policy opportunities to stem a public health crisis, generate a return on investment for public dollars, put people back to work and restore trust. This is one we cannot afford to miss.

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This group of workers could help turnaround quality of life -- and the economy - CNN

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