Community health workers (CHWs) are an increasingly viable component of the American health system. While organizations may be interested in incorporating CHWs into the health care workforce, there are challenges to doing so.
This study characterizes the successes and lessons learned from implementing new CHW programs in clinical and community-based settings in 4 US Gulf states.
Semistructured interviews were conducted with CHWs and their supervisors.
Interviews were conducted with participants in 16 community-based organizations and federally qualified health centers located in coastal counties and parishes of Louisiana, Florida, Alabama, and Mississippi.
Study participants consisted of 22 CHWs and 17 CHW supervisors.
Although most challenges and strategies were reported by participants working in both clinical and community-based settings, some were workplace-specific. Participants from predominantly clinical settings described the importance of strengthening organizational cohesion and coordination, whereas participants from community-based participants discussed the need for specialized training for CHWs. In both work environments, participants indicated that CHW functioning was constrained by limited organizational resources, difficulty accessing the client population, and limited knowledge regarding the CHW's scope of practice. Strategies to improve CHW functioning in both settings included investing in local partnerships, streamlining resources, prioritizing strong communication and outreach, and establishing explicit operating procedures. The majority of participants noted that challenges lessened over time.
Evaluating successes and lessons learned in CHW work is critical to maximize CHWs' abilities to address clients' health needs and promote health in underserved communities. This study provides important insights into how to successfully integrate CHWs into the public health workforce.