Integrating Community Health Workers (CHWs) into Health Care Organizations
Health care organizations increasingly employ community health workers (CHWs) to help address growing provider shortages, improve patient outcomes, and increase access to culturally sensitive care among traditionally inaccessible or disenfranchised patient populations. Scholarly interest in CHWs has grown in recent decades, but researchers tend to focus on how CHWs affect patient outcomes rather than whether and how CHWs fit into the existing health care workforce. This paper focuses on the factors that facilitate and impede the integration of the CHWs into health care organizations, and strategies that organizations and their staff develop to overcome barriers to CHW integration. We use qualitative evaluation data from 13 awardees that received Health Care Innovation Awards from the Centers of Medicare and Medicaid Innovation to enhance the quality of health care, improve health outcomes, and reduce the cost of care using programs involving CHWs. We find that organizational capacity, support for CHWs, clarity about health care roles, and clinical workflow drive CHW integration. We conclude with practical recommendations for health care organizations interested in employing CHWs.