Success with CHWs Asthma

Meet Rhonda Lay

What drew you into the community health worker (CHW) profession?

In the beginning I didn’t know anything about community health work but being a respiratory therapist who was now disabled, I was looking for something that I could do part-time and that would allow me to utilize my background as a respiratory therapist.

The community health worker position was something that I could do given my physical limitations; I decided to apply and I got the job! I completed the training and by being a respiratory therapist I knew asthma already. I was comfortable knowing the disease but did not understand what the job entailed.

What’s your most memorable experience working as a CHW?

My most memorable experience as a CHW was one of my first cases, which was a mother and one of her three children who had been recently diagnosed with uncontrolled asthma. The mom had no knowledge about the disease and during the first three home visits she cried the entire time. She thought there was something that she had done to cause her daughter’s chronic illness, either during pregnancy or due to her lifestyle.

I had to reassure her that it was nothing that she had done. She began to learn about asthma and its signs and symptoms, and also the triggers that were causing her daughter’s asthma to flare up. I taught her to use the medications correctly and she became more comfortable with how to manage her daughter’s health. The daughter improved greatly! That was something of an “aha!” moment for me where I realized I was an advocate and change agent for helping people improve their quality of life.

What is the biggest challenge in your work and how did you overcome it?

There have been many challenges in the last seven years of me doing community health work. Some of them relate to families not realizing that asthma is a chronic illness and nobody has to die from it. It can be managed if taken seriously.

The biggest challenge currently is that many in the healthcare profession don’t yet understand the value of community health work, which has been a part of our communities for decades. Due in part to the Affordable Care Act, it is now a vital entity in healthcare.

I have overcome the challenges by continuing to do the important work of increasing community members’ knowledge of how to manage chronic illnesses such as asthma. Seeing a smile from a participant when I enter a home is a good feeling that makes me feel I’ve accomplished something.

Republished with the permission of the Mount Sinai Health System.

Related to: CHW Profiles