CHSP event discusses growth and role of community health workers

Kerri Shaw (left) moderates a community health worker panel comprised of (from left to right) Kim Depue, Melissa Thomas, Ruth Dudding and Laura Grueser.
By Joe Higgins
June 27, 2019

Dozens of healthcare professionals gathered earlier this month for a Community Health Workers Stakeholders Convening hosted by Ohio University’s College of Health Sciences and Professions (CHSP). The goal of the event was to address the fast-paced growth of community health workers in the region and throughout the state.

CHSP Dean Randy Leite welcomed those in attendance and said the efforts of community health workers is far-reaching.

“I go to a lot of different meeting with a lot of different entities where we discuss how to solve a broad range of health-related problems such as substances abuse disorder, aging and dementia and other issues. It seems like in every conversation, someone says community health workers are a part of the solution,” Leite said. “I’m excited about what we might do to try to continue to develop cohorts of community health workers and create opportunities for them to work and have an impact.”

Kerri Shaw, community health work program training director for Ohio University, explained that a community health worker is a frontline worker who is a trusted member of the community and usually has a close understanding of that community. She said community health workers are a growing workforce in Ohio and across the country and that trust is an important quality community health workers possess in order to grow and foster relationships.

“This relationship enables the worker to serve as a liaison between the community and other healthcare professionals to facilitate access to services and improve the quality and competence of service delivery,” Shaw said.

Ohio University’s Community Health Worker program is certified through the Ohio Board of Nursing and is offered at no cost. Participants in the program engage in 100 hours of didactic classroom content and 130 hours in the field. They are Red Cross and CPR trained and instructed in motivational interviewing while also gaining an understanding of community resources.

Ohio University was recently a recipient of a grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission that will fund a specialization of community health workers. The goal is to train 45 workers in the next 18 months with a focus on reentry and recovery for justice-involved women. Already, 18 participants have registered for the summer training.

Heather Reed Robinson, associate director of the Ohio Colleges of Medicine Government Resource Center, provided insight into a statewide assessment of community health workers.

Robinson reported there are more than 600 certified community health workers in Ohio and more who have yet to receive certification. She said community health workers are practicing in all 88 of Ohio’s counties with the majority being female and working in urban areas. Community health workers are also known by other titles such as outreach workers, patient advocators and health coaches and practice at homes, agencies, community events, community health centers, shelters, hospitals, schools and other worksites throughout communities.

During the event, a panel convened to discuss first-person accounts of community health workers who shared success and challenges of being in the field. One highlight was a report on the lifestyle changes some are making as a result of working with community health workers through local health departments with some resulting in lower A1C levels in patients with diabetes.

“As the training director, it’s exciting to see the results of this program, which started in 2015 and has now reached an exciting point of growth and success around the region,” Shaw said.

“With CHSP's recent funding from the Appalachian Regional Commission, there is potential to be on the forefront when it comes to community health workers working with people (in particular women) in reentry and recovery.”

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About the College of Health Sciences and Professions

Ohio University’s College of Health Sciences and Professions (CHSP) is a place where innovative education and research happen every day. Each year, more than 3,600 students graduate from our Athens and Dublin-based campuses prepared to serve as passionate professionals who are ready to change the world. As one of the largest health-focused colleges in the country, CHSP has a growing portfolio of degree and certificate programs housed in six academic units: the School of Applied Health Sciences and Wellness; the School of Nursing; the School of Rehabilitation and Communication Sciences; the Department of Social and Public Health; the Department of Social Work and the Department of Interdisciplinary Health Studies. All six connect faculty and students across multiple disciplines to explore the best approaches to addressing health and wellness in various settings. Find out more at: