Community Health Workers (CHWs) typically share the ethnicity, race, culture, language, class, geography, disability and/or life experience of the people they serve. This allows them to form trusting relationships with patients (and parents of patients), often in settings that are comfortable and familiar.
According to StratisHealth, health care providers across Minnesota are now providing care to an increasingly more diverse patient population that may not speak English, may not be familiar with Western medical customs, and may be distrustful of the American way of delivering health care. The Minnesota Population Projections by Race and Hispanic Origin 2000-2030 (January 2005) shows that the percent of Minnesota’s population that is nonwhite is projected to rise to 13% by 2015 and to 16% by 2030, with the Hispanic population projected to triple by 2030. Minnesota has the largest Somali and Liberian populations in the U.S., and its Hmong population is second only to California, with St. Paul home to the largest urban population of Hmong in the world.
CHWs can take more time with patients, especially when there are communication barriers related to literacy and language ability among foreign-born, deaf and/or low-income patients. CHWs can also find out if patients are using traditional medicines or are engaged in polypharmacy, review potential side effects, and reinforce the need to complete the entire course of medication.
As part of an integrated care team, CHWs can also help other team members better understand the cultural beliefs and practices of patients, improving cultural competence.
“[Our] successful CHW experience has led health system leaders to consider how to best expand the CHW program to incorporate more CHWs across the health system where language and cultural barriers exist.” — Marilyn Peitso, MD, FAAP, Past President, Minnesota Chapter American Academy of Pediatrics, Centracare Pediatrics