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Community Health Workers

 

Community health workers (CHW) are an important part of Wisconsin's public health and health care systems. They are the bridge between you and resources available in your community.

The Chronic Disease Prevention Program collaborates with partners to advance the sustainability and integration of the CHW workforce to promote equity and positive health outcomes for people in Wisconsin.

What is a community health worker?

Illustration of a magnifying glass and people icons

CHWs, are the bridge that connect people to care and resources to help them be healthy. CHWs are community members who have lived experience in overcoming barriers to access, navigating systems, and using resources in the communities they serve. The primary goal of a CHW is to improve health outcomes of people in their communities.

CHWs can be found working in many different places like health departments, community organizations, hospitals, clinics, and schools. CHWs work under different job titles, including promotores(as) de salud, community health representatives, doulas, neighborhood navigators, patient navigators, and peer educators, just to name a few.

How to connect with a community health worker in your community

  • Ask your provider or local health department to connect you with a CHW
  • If your provider or health department isn’t familiar with CHWs or the impact of their work, you can share this page with them
  • For more information or questions about CHWs, you can contact DHSCommunityHealthWorkers@dhs.wisconsin.gov

What does a community health worker do?

Help people access care and social services

A CHW can work alongside a community member to remove obstacles that get in the way of being the healthiest they can be. Some of these barriers might be related to transportation, housing, or access to healthy foods. CHWs can also help people learn how to navigate health and social service systems, so they can connect to the care and resources they need to stay healthy.

Advocate for people and their community

CHWs are members of the same communities they serve and have often had to deal with some of the same challenges that their clients are facing. This means they have a connection and understanding of the community.

When community members do not have the resources needed to be healthy, CHWs can advocate for resources the community needs to thrive.

Promote resilience in communities statewide

When community members have the power and knowledge to navigate the systems and access the resources they need to be healthy, this creates resilience and allows them to thrive. Through their work, CHWs help build resilience in communities and community members. This resilience helps reduce the impact of COVID-19 and/or future public health emergencies.

How do community health workers make a difference in their communities?

Group of smiling people waving

Community health workers across the nation

CHWs have been active in the United States for many decades. Before CHWs were hired in formal CHW positions, specialized health workers were making a positive impact in their communities by doing much of the same work that CHWs do today. Over the decades, the CHW workforce has continued to evolve and expand. CHWs have also formally organized themselves and advocated to professionalize CHW work.

Wisconsin efforts in supporting community health workers

The Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) has used grant awards to support CHW work to improve health outcomes for conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, stroke, asthma, HIV, and maternal and child health. There are a growing number of other programs and units within DHS that engage CHWs in their work.


Community health worker success stories in Wisconsin


How can community health workers help lower health care costs?

Health care costs going up.

When CHWs are part of care teams, there is a history of lower health care costs. Community members living with chronic conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure, HIV, or asthma will need to learn how to manage the condition(s) in order to live well. It can be hard to figure out how to manage a condition along with all the other things in life. CHWs can help community members create a self-management plan for their condition(s) that fits into their lives. When a condition is well-managed, it is less likely to result in visits to the emergency department or having to stay overnight at the hospital. This means better health for community members and lower healthcare costs overall.

Research studies have shown that CHWs are a good financial “return on investment.” View a summary of research studies that show the effectiveness of CHWs across multiple settings and health conditions.

Learn more about community health workers

  • Envision Equity – CHW training and technical assistance center
  • NACHW (National Association of Community Health Workers) – Webinars, CHW toolkits, advocacy, and learning opportunities. Convenes a national CHW conference
  • CCHA - Center for Community Health Alignment - at the University of South Carolina. CHW best practice toolkits, CHW training, and more
  • Penn Center for Community Health Workers – at the University of Pennsylvania. CHW research, training & education, and consultation
  • CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) – CHW toolkit, policy resources, and peer-reviewed journal articles
  • Definition of a community health worker - the American Public Health Association

  • Great Rivers HUB – in-person core competency training in the La Crosse area
  • Milwaukee AHEC (Area Health Education Center)– Virtual CHW core competency training
  • Unite WI – in-person core competency training in Milwaukee
  • CHW Training Program – a workforce development initiative to increase the number of CHWs across Wisconsin. Trainees participating in core competency training, that follows a validated curriculum, may be eligible for financial support.

  • NASHP (National Academy for State Health Policy) - state-by-state details on CHW certification & training, services & reimbursement, and legislation
  • APHA (American Public Health Association) CHW member section, convene an annual meeting
  • Pathways Community HUB Institute – a model for CHW work that focuses on building a sustainable community-based care coordination network
  • Financing Strategies to Support the CHW Workforce - 2019 presentation from ASTHO reviewing the different options available to finance CHW work, including managed care contracts, State Plan Amendments, Medicaid fee schedules, and including in core operating budgets
  • Sustainable Financing of CHW Employment - 2020 brief from The National Association of Community Health Workers (NACHW).
  • MHP Salud – non-profit organization that provides training, consulting, and support to CHW programs. Content available in Spanish and English
  • WPHA (Wisconsin Public Health Association) – CHW section with CHW representatives from Wisconsin, convene an annual public health conference

Subscribe to our newsletter

Subscribe to the CHW Empowerment newsletter for CHW news, resources, opportunities, and more.


Contact us for more information

Wisconsin Department of Health Services
Chronic Disease Prevention Program
1 West Wilson St.
Madison, WI 53701-2659
dhscommunityhealthworkers@dhs.wisconsin.gov

Last revised March 13, 2024