The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) awarded more than $4.3 million to the Institute for Public Health Innovation (IPHI), which applied for funding on behalf of the Virginia Department of Health and a host of collaborating partners, to expand the roles and capacity of community health workers (CHWs) in supporting COVID-19 response and recovery in the Commonwealth. The funded effort entitled, Community Health Workers for a Healthy Virginia (CHWs for a Healthy VA), will also explore innovative financing strategies to help build and sustain the CHW workforce long-term. The CDC grant is part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (“CARES”) Act of 2020.
Community health workers are front-line public health workers who are trusted members of and/or have an unusually close understanding of the communities they serve. These trusting relationships enable CHWs to conduct community outreach, provide health education, offer social support, and facilitate access to community resources effectively.
As required by the CDC, the Virginia initiative will focus on geographic areas of Virginia with high rates of COVID-19 identified by project partners. Those areas include parts of the Richmond metro region, Norfolk, Portsmouth, the Danville area, and the Southwest Virginia communities served by the Mount Rogers Health District. Through the grant, community-based organizations, health care providers, local health departments, and other partners will hire and deploy CHWs, and IPHI will assist with training and provide technical assistance. Public health approaches utilizing CHWs will address gaps in access to COVID-related services, such as testing, vaccination, and quarantine support, and respond to community needs that have been exacerbated by COVID-19, such as access to health and mental health care, housing services, and food assistance.
“For a variety of reasons COVID-19 has had a disproportionate impact on some communities including urban African American and LatinX communities and rural communities in Southwest Virginia,” said State Health Commissioner M. Norman Oliver, M.D., M.A. “Community health workers on the frontlines, embedded in communities, have a unique view of community and individual needs. Developing the community health worker workforce has been a priority for Virginia for many years, and this grant is a big boost to our efforts.”
“The Institute for Public Health Innovation is honored to lead this important effort on behalf of Virginia Department of Health and so many other partners across Virginia,” said IPHI President and CEO Michael Rhein. “It’s exciting to see the federal government make these investments in CHWs in Virginia and across the country. CHWs are an essential aspect of any state’s action to eliminate disparities and inequities in public health.”
IPHI, VDH, and their partners will work within priority communities and populations to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, support community recovery and resilience, and implement demonstration projects to test financing models to sustain CHWs and community resource providers. The goals for pilot communities include increasing primary care service use and access to community services among high-risk populations, decreasing emergency room visits and hospitalizations, and reducing healthcare spending. CHWs for a Healthy VA will support the front-line pandemic response and recovery efforts. It will also promote long-term community health by creating replicable and sustainable financing models that will strengthen and permanently reinforce the CHW-workforce throughout Virginia.
The CARES Act allocated funds to the CDC to train and deploy CHWs to respond to COVID-19 efforts and to build and reinforce community resilience. The CHWs for a Healthy VA will serve more than 1.6 million residents in Virginia.