40 ideas: Significantly expand community health workers in central Indiana

Central Indiana is home to communities that face employment barriers and financial instability and lack sustainable self-sufficiency. Significant inequities and health disparities persist, despite existing efforts.

A team of four women faculty members from Purdue University has engaged a variety of central Indiana community partners, including the Indiana Community Health Workers Association, in an effort to decrease health disparities for marginalized communities through the creation of the Community Health Workforce Development Institute. The overarching goals of the institute are to create and sustain community health worker jobs for members of vulnerable neighborhoods in central Indiana and to provide accessible job training to help communities overcome employment barriers and other poverty-associated challenges.

But the work done so far isn’t enough. It’s time to truly unleash the power of these workers to help our region.

Community health workers build individual and community capacity by increasing self-sufficiency and health knowledge through activities such as outreach, community education, informal counseling, social support and advocacy. Community health workers improve clinical outcomes for chronic and other health conditions that disproportionately affect Black and Hispanic populations. CHWs in central Indiana currently support efforts related to maternal-infant health, diabetes, tobacco cessation, mental health and more.

Nationwide, CHW models exist with varying degrees of implementation, breadth and sustainability. Indiana lags behind the progress made for the CHW workforce in other states. Indiana currently has siloed CHW programs with scattered models of training and employment, and the workforce has generally been underrecognized and underused. Access to certified training programs is limited, which presents a challenge to the low-income communities that would most benefit from CHW employment opportunities and services.

In 2018, the CHW work group of the Governor’s Health Workforce Council laid much of the foundation for the progress made to date. The institute aligns and builds upon existing efforts, envisions and develops innovative evidence-based solutions, and aims to improve health outcomes for marginalized individuals and lift communities out of poverty.•

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40 Ideas