When a patient moves through the health care continuum, they can sometimes fall into certain gaps and miss out on services that would otherwise be beneficial. While the system continues to strive for better care coordination centered on the patient, there is one emerging role that can ease transitions and better serve patients — the community health worker (CHW).
A community health worker is not a health care professional, but rather a person that works often in a hospital or doctor’s office setting who connects patients with services in their community. Like a social worker, a CHW would help a patient meet their needs, whether it’s services like transportation or helping them connect with skilled nursing providers.
This role, which helps coordinate all types of care and services, is beco ming increasingly crucial and in demand. By 2024, employment for CHWs is projected to grow 13%, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
With this rise in demand, University of California, Riverside (UCR) Extension is helping lead the way to train more CHWs with a new program. UCR was recently selected to partner with the Riverside County Workforce Development Board to participate in a California initiative that aims to develop the most needed workers, called SlingShot.
UCR’s program focuses on the “aspect of closing the loop on the communication” in the health care system,” Kasey Wilson, director of business, technology, and health at UCR Extension, told Skilled Nursing News. The five-week course will train participants on different levels of care — including SNFs, home health, assisted living, outpatient services and more — to improve patients’ access to care.
The program, while starting out small with just 14 students at a time, could grow; Wilson hopes that it will expand in the future with a Spanish version of the course. In California in particular, there is a growing need for Spanish-speaking help in health care.
“We think there is quite a bit of potential,” Wilson said. “This serves this particular niche in a very needed way.”
Another important role of the CHW is to serve as a confidante and sounding board for patients, which can increase the likelihood that they’ll use crucial health care services. CHWs often “rely on relationships and trust more than on clinical expertise,” according to the California Association of Health Workers.
“Part of the problem is some people won’t listen to health care providers but will listen to a CHW who is a little more on their level, who can talk to them a little more easily,” Wilson said. “It’s like a [patient] advocate.”
Another unique aspect of the program is that UCR will receive employer feedback once students are employed after the course. This gives the institution better insight into whether the training actually applies in the workforce—the aim of the overall SlingShot initiative, Wilson said.
The first class is scheduled to begin on September 25.
Written by Amy Baxter