Community health workers and non-clinical patient navigators: A critical COVID-19 pandemic workforce

Kristen J. Wells, Andrea J. Dwyer, Elizabeth Calhoun, Patricia A. Valverde

Research output: Contribution to journalComment/debatepeer-review

Abstract

The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in substantial morbidity and mortality and challenged public health agencies and healthcare systems worldwide. In the U.S., physical distancing orders and other restrictions have had severe economic and societal consequences. Populations already vulnerable in the United States have experienced worse COVID-19 health outcomes. The World Health Organization has made recommendations to engage at risk populations and communicate accurate information about risk and prevention; to conduct contract tracing; and to support those affected by COVID-19. This Commentary highlights the ways in which an existing and cost-effective, but underutilized workforce, community health workers and non-clinical patient navigators, should be deployed to address the COVID-19 pandemic. Community health workers and non-clinical patient navigators have skills in community engagement and health communication and are able to gain the trust of vulnerable communities. Furthermore, many community health workers and non-clinical patient navigators have skills in assisting community members with meeting basic needs and with navigating public health and healthcare systems. Members of this workforce are more than prepared to conduct contact tracing. State, local, tribal, and territorial public health agencies and healthcare systems should be collaborating with national, state, and local organizations that represent and employ CHWs/non-clinical patient navigators to determine how to better mobilize this workforce to address the COVID-19 pandemic. Furthermore, Congress, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), and individual states need to adopt policies to sustainably fund their critically needed services in the long term.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number106464
JournalPreventive Medicine
Volume146
DOIs
StatePublished - May 2021
Externally publishedYes

Keywords

  • Contact tracing
  • Coronavirus
  • Health communication
  • Health disparities
  • Health education
  • Health policy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Epidemiology
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health

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