Community Health Workers Call for More Work Force Research: More Study Needed to Advocate Investment

Article excerpt

While their impact is measurable for the people and families they serve, the overall effect of community health workers remains difficult to quantify, often leaving such workers --and their unique skills--off policy-makers' radar. Recently, though, a gathering of community health workers debuted a research agenda that participants hope will help the field reach its full potential.

Released during APHA's 135th Annual Meeting in November, "Building a National Research Agenda for the Community Health Worker Field" is the result of a two-day conference aimed, in part, at pinpointing data needed to "establish the (community health worker) field as an occupational group whose roles, value and work force needs are widely understood and accepted within the health care system." The January 2007 conference, "Focus on the Future," marked the first time a diverse set of community health workers, researchers and stakeholders came together to develop a research agenda for the field.

"There's very few studies that actually compare the effectiveness of results between community health workers and other (health care providers)," said Carl Rush, a main author of the research agenda report and a member of APHA's Community Health Worker Special Primary Interest Group. "It's generally known that the strength of community health workers is in their closeness to their communities ... but it's difficult for policy-makers to assimilate in terms of work force policy and occupational standard qualifications."

Among the research themes conference participants identified were community health workers' impact on clinical outcomes, the cost-effectiveness of the field's programs and interventions, the types of skills most essential to their success and ways such workers can better integrate into the larger health care system. …