In the changing health care landscape, a new, important workforce is emerging with the aim to connect health systems and the people who utilize them.
The community-based workforce is comprised of community health workers, peer navigators, certified peer counselors, recovery coaches, community health advocates, community connectors and more.
Sara Angelo, a coordinating committee member with Southwest Washington Community Health Advocate and Peer Support Network, or SW CHAPS, said the lived experience of the community workforce is a great conduit to connect people to health resources they might need.
Community workers can help members of their community navigate health care and social services, or access other important services. That can be done casually or as staff with area nonprofits or agencies.
“We’re a really nice complement to the health care system. We’re our own unique piece,” Angelo said. “We can flesh out things with the people we work with to get to the root of things that in a professional setting is maybe a little too contrived and forced, and people don’t feel the same authenticity to be able to share.”
Community workers go beyond just connecting folks to medical services. They can be like recovery coaches, who help people battle addiction through their own experiences in one-on-one or group settings.
Community workers can also advocate to legislators, law enforcement, elected officials and others in power. Since community workers are plugged into their communities, they understand the most pressing issues facing their community — and how to best advocate for change.
Dominique Horn, who works as a community health coach in Rose Village and works as a community health advocate at McLoughlin Middle School, said she believes community workers create better outcomes, better service and cost savings, reaching a “triple-aim” that’s important.
Ren Autrey, a certified peer counselor, agreed.
“I think a lot of health care plans are trying to come up with compassionate responses,” Autrey said. “Trauma informed is one of those words being thrown out there. What does that look like? Sometimes it looks like individual supports and connections through these barriers that have been holding people back. Sometimes it’s just to be able to alleviate fear. Healing happens within community. If we can continue to support those outcomes through community, connection and relationships, then I think we’re addressing things in a more whole person way. We’re not so siloed in our workplaces and our communities.”
Horn said her role as a community worker keeps her motivated.
“There’s always things within our community, that with community voice brought to the table, we can be a good tool in the process of improving our systems and our policies,” Horn said. “There’s always room for improvement and there’s always drive and opportunities for us to learn.”