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Studies show that community health workers (CHWs) can help address a variety of health disparities in vulnerable populations, such as Latinos.
A new study, published in the journal Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes, adds to this growing body of evidence.
Let’s look at the findings of this study and why CHWs, also known as promotoras de salud and patient navigators, are increasingly recognized for their critical role in increasing healthcare access for medically underserved populations.
The Impact of CHWs on Heart Health
The new study, conducted by researchers at NYU Grossman School of Medicine, examined high blood pressure disparities in New York’s South Asian American population. This population faces similar social and cultural barriers as Latinos in accessing healthcare, including limited English proficiency and lack of culturally tailored health resources.
Researchers found that patients paired with a CHW were more than 3.5 times as likely to achieve blood pressure control within six months compared to patients not paired with a CHW.
These findings suggest that similar CHW inventions could help tackle health disparities in other medically underserved populations, such as Latinos.
“As these findings illustrate, making community health workers accessible for our members is an important way to advance health equity. We hope others will learn from, replicate, and scale this intervention,” said Dr. Susan Beane, executive medical director of Healthfirst, one of the study’s co-collaborators and New York City’s largest insurer of Medicaid patients.
The Advantage of CHWs
Because CHWs typically reside in the community they serve, they have a deep understanding of the community’s health needs and knowledge of the most effective ways of meeting those needs.
For example, the CHWs in the study helped patients integrate physician recommendations into their daily routines through culturally sensitive and linguistically appropriate health coaching, leading to better long-term management of high blood pressure.
Other studies have shown similar positive outcomes from CHWs delivering culturally tailored care to patients, including faster cancer diagnoses and improved health outcomes in Latino cancer patients.
Overall, the study’s results are a further indication of the critical role CHWs play in ensuring all patients, no matter their background, get the healthcare they need.
More Investment in CHWs
During the COVID-19 pandemic, CHWs helped countless Latinos and other patients receive the COVID-19 vaccine and were also instrumental in debunking the myths and misinformation about the virus.
As a result of this incredible work, the US government has recently invested more funds into training CHWs.
In Sept. 2022, the Biden-Harris administration allocated more than $226M to grow the community and public health workforce, which will specifically help train CHWs.
In Nov. 2022, UT Health San Antonio received a sizeable portion of this federal investment, which will be used to train 275 CHWs across South Texas and support an additional 75 CHWs in maintaining state certification.
Like New York’s South Asian American population, Latinos in South Texas face several barriers to healthcare, leading to higher rates of chronic conditions like high blood pressure.
“Without the important work of CHWs, patients who face barriers to healthcare may not be able to get the help they need, which affects their health and the future of public health,” said Dr. Amelie Ramirez, director of Salud America! and its home base, the Institute for Health Promotion Research at UT Health San Antonio. “We must continue to invest in studying the benefits of community health workers and fund opportunities to get more of these vital workers in the field.”
How You Can Help Boost Health in Your Town
You can help advocate for health equity and public health, too.
Select your county and get a Health Equity Report Card by Salud America! at UT Health San Antonio.
In your report card, you will see maps, data, and gauges to compare health equity and public health issues to the rest of your state and nation.
You can email your Health Equity Report Card to local leaders to stimulate community change. Use the data in your materials or share on social media to raise awareness.