January 21, 2021

Community Health Workers in Kansas

Strengths, Challenges and Opportunities

A new research report released by the United Methodist Health Ministry Fund finds that integrating Community Health Workers (CHWs) into care teams results in better and more appropriate access to health care services, improves health outcomes, addresses gaps and equity issues in the health care system, and delivers strong return on investment for the employer and at the system level.

In Kansas and throughout the country, CHWs are also known by names including health navigator, promotor(a), advocate, and educator. CHWs have long served as a bridge between community members and the medical and social services they need, but their role and importance has been less well known than that of other frontline health workers. CHWs engage in a variety of activities, such as providing assistance or guidance to community residents, culturally or linguistically appropriate education services, advocacy, coordination of care, and insurance enrollment.

To better understand the CHW landscape, the Health Fund commissioned a research study and the development of an interactive map to help Kansans locate CHWs across the state. A research brief summarizing the full report is also available. Conducted by Wichita State University’s Community Engagement Institute, the research outlined the strengths and benefits of utilizing CHWs, including:

  • Return on investment: Integrating CHWs into the health care delivery system is associated with more cost-effective and sustainable care.
  • Health outcomes: Individually-designed care made possible through CHWs leads to improved chronic disease control, mental health, quality of care, and reduced hospitalizations.
  • Healthcare accessibility: CHWs increase access to services for individuals who often avoid preventive and routine care or only access health care for emergencies.

To ensure long-term success, broader implementation and sustainability of CHWs in Kansas, the report also highlights crucial steps that need to be taken to recognize the profession and to establish sustainable funding for CHWs, including:

  • Continuing to collect data to demonstrate value
  • Demonstrating non-monetary value
  • Standardizing education and training
  • Exploring alternative funding

Beyond supporting research regarding CHWs, the Health Fund recently awarded four Kansas health centers and hospitals grant funding to support demonstration projects utilizing CHWs. The Health Fund will also be supporting the training of a cohort of CHWs in Kansas and will work to educate policymakers, payers, and the public about the benefits of CHWs in Kansas.

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