Community health workers make important contributions to health, health care, and prevention efforts. According to the American Public Health Association, a community health worker is “a frontline public health worker who is a trusted member of and/or has an unusually close understanding of the community served. This trusting relationship enables the worker to serve as a liaison/link/intermediary between health/social services and the community to facilitate access to services and improve the quality and cultural competence of service delivery. A community health worker also builds individual and community capacity by increasing health knowledge and self-sufficiency through a range of activities such as outreach, community education, informal counseling, social support and advocacy”.
Section 5313 of the Affordable Care Act identifies community health workers (CHWs) as health professionals and members of multi-disciplinary teams that can improve the delivery and quality of health care. In 2014, HB5412 was signed into law in order to explore some of the underlying policies, systems, and infrastructures that contribute to the growth and sustainability of this workforce here in Illinois.
The legislation had two main purposes: the adoption of the American Public Health Association definition of a CHW and the establishment of the 15-member Illinois Community Health Worker Advisory Board. This diverse board is made up of eight CHWs from across the state as well as individuals representing CHW employers, CHW training organizations, workforce policy experts, health and social service providers, and institutions of higher education. The Board’s members, and a broad array of over 70 stakeholders, worked tirelessly over the course of a year to develop its report of 25 recommendations organized under five major categories: core competencies and roles; training and certification; financing and reimbursement; workforce development; and awareness building.