Medical visits are rarely straightforward. Add factors such as poverty, chronic stress, complex medical issues, functional impairment, and barriers to material needs, and caring for one’s well-being becomes exponentially more layered and challenging.
A community health worker is a human service worker who supports individuals and families in navigating systems, advocating for their needs, and building relationships that foster social-emotional well-being. In the context of the medical home and integrated behavioral health care settings, community health workers are increasingly becoming a fixed part of the care team, addressing many of the non-medical issues that impact health. Unfortunately, the presence of community health workers on care teams is not yet supported by a sustainable payment system, nor by widespread understanding of what the profession entails.
The Affordable Care Act recognizes poverty, housing, and food access as critical social determinants of health and has in fact implemented screeners at medical visits to collect data on these life domains to track their impact on overall health. Community health workers are hired to address those very issues; their efforts must garner the financial and professional respect that match the gravitas of what they do.