By Patrick McMahon MPH, BSN, RN
Community health workers and health education specialists work every day to increase health equity. They are a vital frontline public health workforce that understands community needs, supports community members, and helps them navigate local barriers so that more community members can connect to health care. Their contributions enhance the effectiveness of prevention and management efforts of chronic conditions to improve overall health.
The Community Preventive Services Task Force (CPSTF) recommends engaging community health workers in interventions around diabetes management and prevention. The CPSTF findings for interventions that engage community health workers are positive.
- Diabetes Management helped people manage their diabetes, and improved patients’ glycemic and lipid management and reduced their healthcare use.
- Diabetes Prevention increased effectiveness in improving glycemic management and weight-related outcomes among people at increased risk for type 2 diabetes.
ADCES also sees the value of community health workers, as we note in our practice paper Community Health Workers as Diabetes Paraprofessionals in DSMES and Prediabetes.
Community health workers and health education specialists improve health outcomes for the individual and the community. Community health workers and health education specialists accomplish this by taking a health equity approach to understand the community they serve so that all people can attain their full health potential.
Leo Gaeta, Columbia Basin Health Association’s (CBHA) Vice President of Programs, explains that for CBHA, community health workers and health education specialists embody their organization’s commitment to health equity.
When asked why other organizations should start programs with community health workers and health education specialists, Leo explains that for CBHA, their health educators and community health workers are vital members of the healthcare team. They help connect the dots in patient care and provide resources that contribute to the optimal health outcomes for those with prediabetes and diabetes. They address medical needs and social needs. In Leo’s view, “Health Educators and CHWs are the key ingredients in the recipe for a stronger healthcare system.” He adds that at CBHA, “Health equity is a cornerstone in the foundation for the work that health educators and community health workers perform.”
“Health equity is a corner stone in the foundation for the work that health educators and community health workers perform.”
Here are a few examples of how this workforce promotes health equity at CBHA:
- Identify individual needs and barriers to build bridges to health care and other services.
- Empower and support each person’s level of learning so that individuals are knowledgeable about their own health and can make informed decision on how to effectively manage their health.
- Be proactive by focusing on prevention services versus acute care.
- Demonstrate care, compassion, understanding, passion and commitment to each person who comes into CBHA for care.
Mishelle Vargas-Antonio, CBHA Diabetes Prevention Coordinator and case manager, also sees the value of the health center’s health education team. CBHA’s health educators have lots of responsibilities. They assess community members’ social determinants of health needs and their readiness to make healthy behavior changes. They connect community members to services that help them prevent, delay, or manage their diabetes or other chronic disease. But in Mishelle’s view, the most important job that health educators do is relationship building, “Building rapport is essential! Build trust first and then your participants will start to share what’s happening in their lives. They may have prediabetes, but, if they’re about to get evicted from their home, diabetes prevention will not be their priority.”
Working with community health workers and health education specialists in your organization will help you expand your health equity efforts by increasing your understanding of your community, providing person-centered and culturally-connected support, and helping individuals get the support they need to improve their health.
Learn how other healthcare professionals and organizations are making ADCES’ vision of optimal health and quality of life a reality for people with prediabetes and diabetes. Listen to and learn from the stories at DiabetesEducator.org/HealthEquity to see how you can begin addressing health inequities in your own area.
ADCES Perspectives on Diabetes Care
The Association of Diabetes Care & Education Specialists Perspectives on Diabetes Care covers diabetes, prediabetes and other cardiometabolic conditions. Not all views expressed reflect the official position of the Association of Diabetes Care & Education Specialists.
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HEALTHCARE DISCLAIMER: This site and its services do not constitute the practice of medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always talk to your diabetes care and education specialist or healthcare provider for diagnosis and treatment, including your specific medical needs. If you have or suspect that you have a medical problem or condition, please contact a qualified health care professional immediately. To find a diabetes care and education specialist near you, visit DiabetesEducator.org/Find.