Establishing voluntary certification of community health workers in Arizona: a policy case study of building a unified workforce

Maia Ingram, Samantha Sabo, Floribella Redondo, Yanitza Soto, Kim Russell, Heather Carter, Brook Bender, Jill Guernsey de Zapien

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

BACKGROUND: Community health workers (CHWs) are widely recognized as essential to addressing disparities in health care delivery and outcomes in US vulnerable populations. In the state of Arizona, the sustainability of the workforce is threatened by low wages, poor job security, and limited opportunities for training and advancement within the profession. CHW voluntary certification offers an avenue to increase the recognition, compensation, training, and standardization of the workforce. However, passing voluntary certification legislation in an anti-regulatory state such as Arizona posed a major challenge that required a robust advocacy effort. CASE PRESENTATION: In this article, we describe the process of unifying the two major CHW workforces in Arizona, promotoras de salud in US-Mexico border communities and community health representatives (CHRs) serving American Indian communities. Differences in the origins, financing, and even language of the population-served contributed to historically divergent interests between CHRs and promotoras. In order to move forward as a collective workforce, it was imperative to integrate the perspectives of CHRs, who have a regular funding stream and work closely through the Indian Health Services, with those of promotoras, who are more likely to be grant-funded in community-based efforts. As a unified workforce, CHWs were better positioned to gain advocacy support from key health care providers and health insurance companies with policy influence. We seek to elucidate the lessons learned in our process that may be relevant to CHWs representing diverse communities across the US and internationally. CONCLUSIONS: Legislated voluntary certification provides a pathway for further professionalization of the CHW workforce by establishing a standard definition and set of core competencies. Voluntary certification also provides guidance to organizations in developing appropriate training and job activities, as well as ongoing professional development opportunities. In developing certification with CHWs representing different populations, and in particular Tribal Nations, it is essential to assure that the CHW definition is in alignment with all groups and that the scope of practice reflects CHW roles in both clinic and community-based settings. The Arizona experience underscores the benefits of a flexible approach that leverages existing strengths in organizations and the population served.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)46
Number of pages1
JournalHuman Resources for Health
Volume18
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - Jun 26 2020

Keywords

  • Coalition
  • Community health representatives
  • Community health worker
  • Health disparities
  • Policy
  • Promotoras de salud
  • Public health workforce
  • Scope of practice
  • Voluntary certification

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Administration
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health

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