Improving health care in the United States starts in the local communities

It’s no secret that America’s health care system is broken. And while the SolV team is dedicated to helping our clients navigate through the pitfalls of the system, we are also invested in finding solutions that will benefit the health of everyone.  The second week of May is recognized as Community Health Improvement Week, we’d like to draw attention to recent research that shows community health workers (CHWs) are crucial in advancing health equity in the United States.

By serving as trusted liaisons between healthcare systems and marginalized communities, CHWs help bridge gaps in healthcare access and outcomes. Their roles include providing culturally competent care, advocating for patient needs, and addressing social determinants of health such as housing and food security.

Research highlighted by the National Institutes of Health shows the effectiveness of CHWs in improving health outcomes and reducing healthcare costs. For instance, CHWs have been shown to significantly decrease hospital admissions among patients with chronic conditions by providing consistent, personalized support.

One critical factor in the success of CHW programs is sustainable funding. Historically, these programs have relied on short-term grants, leading to instability and high turnover rates. However, recent policy changes, such as the U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services’ decision to allow Medicare reimbursement for CHW services starting in 2024, offer a more consistent funding stream. This policy shift is expected to enhance the integration and sustainability of CHW programs nationwide​.

Health insurance companies and employers also benefit from CHW programs. By reducing hospital admissions and improving chronic disease management, CHWs help lower healthcare costs, which is advantageous for insurers. Insurance companies see a return on investment through decreased emergency room visits and hospitalizations, leading to overall cost savings​​.

For employers, healthier employees mean reduced absenteeism, increased productivity, and lower healthcare-related costs. Implementing CHW programs in workplace wellness initiatives can result in significant economic benefits and a healthier workforce​.

Despite these advancements, CHWs face challenges such as poor integration into healthcare teams and the risk of burnout due to the emotional and physical demands of their work. Addressing these issues requires comprehensive support, including proper training, adequate supervision, and measures to prevent burnout. Ensuring that CHWs have a clearly defined role and access to continuous professional development is crucial for their effectiveness and longevity.