New Era for Community Health Workers Begins in PA

Elizabeth Evans (center) shares about her experience as a CHW Apprentice during the final session.

Community health workers (CHW) have been among the most effective members of the health workforce in both the developed and developing world. As trusted members of the communities they serve, CHWs improve health outcomes by helping families understand the need for essential health services, while overcoming barriers to accessing medicine, food, clothing and housing.

For a number of years, JHF has worked to elevate these essential but under-recognized members of the health workforce to certified professionals with the appropriate respect for their contributions. While CHWs may be known as outreach workers, patient navigators, or personal care assistants, full integration requires a common set of skills and job experiences, in addition to defined career ladders.

Back in October 2014, NEHI (Network for Excellence in Health Innovation) convened a national CHW Summit with support from the Jewish Healthcare Foundation, the Rose Community Foundation, and the Association of American Medical Colleges to explore the role CHWs can play in improving quality and reducing costs. Following this conference, NEHI and JHF developed an issue brief in 2015 entitled "Community Health Workers: Getting the Job Done in Healthcare Delivery." Bringing these best practices to Pennsylvania, JHF organized a CHW Statewide Summit in Harrisburg focused on policies to support the CHW workforce, which led to the creation and ongoing work of the PA CHW Steering Group and Task Forces on Policy, Training, and Employment.

The statewide CHW Steering Group and Task Force has been working to develop common standards for certifying CHWs. Concurrently, JHF piloted the first Certified CHW Apprenticeship Program in Pennsylvania aimed at developing the next career step for CHWs. We are excited to share that both of these initiatives have completed their initial scope of work.

Beginning January 10th, the Pennsylvania Certification Board invites CHWs to apply for certification in 2020 through a grandparenting process. For CHWs currently working without credentials, employers can help them become Certified CHWs (CCHW) through on-the-job career development and support. Starting in 2021, the required training must be received from an approved CHW training program. This process will be determined by the Pennsylvania Certification Board CHW Advisory Council in 2020.

The 14 graduating CHW Apprentices at LIFE Pittsburgh.

After becoming a CCHW, professionals can now also look to become a CCHW Apprentice. Certified by the Pennsylvania Apprenticeship and Training Council, JHF/Health Careers Futures was the first in the State to pilot a CHW Apprenticeship Program. Beginning in July 2019, the program worked with selected staff at LIFE (Living Independence for the Elderly) Pittsburgh, an all-inclusive program for frail seniors living in the community.

On January 22nd, the first cohort of Apprentices celebrated their final session of a 25-week training program. Funded in part by The Pittsburgh Foundation, the CHW Apprenticeship Program provided 144 hours of technical instruction and 2,000 hours of on-the-job training, enabling the CHWs to more effectively partner with their clients. All apprentices received a salary increase in recognition of their program completion. In the final session, Traci Nelson, M.Ed, Director of Workforce Development at Community College of Allegheny County, led the apprentices through a discussion of potential new career opportunities matching the knowledge and skills they gained over the last 7 months.

Reflecting on the program, LIFE Pittsburgh CEO Joann Gago spoke of how the organization ensures that "all people are better off in some way after joining the organization." Many apprentices discussed how the apprenticeship program helped build confidence in their ability to care for their participants, communicate with others, and advocate for themselves. The graduating apprentices are the first of this advanced level of CHW Apprentices in Pennsylvania, and their experience will model a new career path and skillset for frontline healthcare workers. 

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