By: Venice Ceballos, community health worker and trainer for Project ECHO (Extension for Community Health Outcomes)
President Obama recognized October 13th as National Promotores Day. This proclamation is a cause for celebration. Promotores and tribal Community Health Representatives, navigators and community support workers are some of the many names that are used in New Mexico to refer to a growing workforce known as Community Health Workers (CHW).
Although they are known within their communities by different names, CHW are recognized by the Federal Department of Labor based on the types of services they provide. Recognized services include providing health information and education appropriate to the language and culture of their clients, and conducting outreach to help people access services that promote, maintain or improve health. Providing social support and informal counseling, advocating for community health needs, and providing preventive services such as health screenings are also among recognized services.
All CHWs extend the reach and quality of services by working on the frontlines of their communities. They are successful at assisting individuals overcome barriers encountered in the health and social service systems, and to learn and maintain the skills needed to manage their health because CHWs share the same language, ethnicity, cultural background, and may face the same barriers as the people they serve. CHWs are vitally important members of health and social service care teams precisely because they are trusted members of their communities.
The establishment of National Promotor Day, raises the awareness of the value of services promotores, CHRs and all CHWs provide. This workforce has been an important part of health and social service delivery in New Mexico for generations. Many professional organizations have developed in New Mexico to provide professional development and support to CHWS including the New Mexico CHW Association, the Northern New Mexico Promotora Committee, the Southern New Mexico Promotora Committee, and the New Mexico /Southern Colorado CHR Association. The combined hard work of these groups and many dedicated community advocates has led New Mexico to the forefront of states working to promote and formally recognize the importance of the CHW workforce.
New Mexico has recognized the vital importance of the broader CHW workforce by establishing the New Mexico CHW Advisory Council. The Council is a community group that works in close partnership with the New Mexico Department of Health Office of Community Health Workers (OCHW). Council membership includes promotoras, CHRs and CHWs from across New Mexico as well as representatives from local community based organizations, universities and colleges, state, agencies and health professions.
The goal of the partnership is to formally integrate CHWs into health and social service systems by the end of 2013.
A primary activity to reach this goal is to establish a voluntary, standardized training and state certification process for CHWs that is based on nine core competencies.
The Council and OCHW are working closely with CHWs and many organizations that provide CHW training to ensure that the state program meets the different needs of those serving New Mexico communities. Community workgroups have been established through the Council to actively recruit interested community voices to guide the process.
Each of the workgroups has a unique focus. One group is working to raise awareness of New Mexico Promotores, CHRs and the broader CHW workforce. A separate group is working to identify all of the CHWs providing services in New Mexico to bring recognition to this important workforce. Another group is working to establish long-term funding options to support CHW training, and provision of their services by looking at state policy options and changes expected as a result of national health care reform. The development of the training curriculum including core training and several specialty tracks is the focus of a fourth group.