Unleashing the Power of Community Health Workers: The CHW Sustainability Collaborative - Families Usa Skip to Main Content

Unleashing the Power of Community Health Workers: The CHW Sustainability Collaborative

By , Ellen Albritton,


Right now, it is no surprise that the bulk of health care advocates’ energy is dedicated to fighting to protect the historic coverage gains made under the Affordable Care Act.

But even as we engage in these defense efforts, it’s important that we don’t lose sight of the critical work that remains to achieve a truly affordable, high-quality health care system: One that eliminates costly racial, ethnic, and other health disparities and focuses on paying for value in health care, not volume.

CHWs can improve health, reduce costs, and address health disparities

That’s why we are so pleased to launch a new initiative to promote better funding for community health workers (CHWs) and improve how they connect with the health care system. CHWs serve as bridges between their communities and the health care system and provide vital services that have been demonstrated to improve health, reduce costs, and address health disparities.

They are exactly the kind of valuable intervention that communities who struggle with health disparities need to have a meaningful shot at healthy, productive lives.

Through our new Community Health Worker Sustainability Collaborative, launched with the support of the Kresge Foundation, we will work with CHW organizations, health care and health equity advocates, policy makers, and other stakeholders to promote using Medicaid funds to provide more sustainable support to CHW programs and better integrate them into the health care system.

We know that unleashing the power of CHWs in communities across the country will make a tremendous difference in health and health care, especially in communities of color.

CHW on the front lines of prevention and community health

As trusted members of the communities they serve, CHWs are able to provide education and support to improve the health of individuals, their families, and their communities as a whole. CHWs help address the many non-clinical factors that influence a person’s health, such as housing, education, literacy, a low income, limited English proficiency, and discrimination. CHWs can be effective in different health care settings and with people with varying health care needs.

Because of their training and their strong relationships in the community, they can play a critical role in connecting people to health and social services, helping people manage chronic conditions, and coordinating care for people with complex health and social needs.

These CHW jobs also provide important economic opportunities to communities with limited employment options.

Limited use of CHWs is a lost opportunity to improve health outcomes

Despite CHWs’ proven effectiveness, their value is under-recognized in our current system that emphasizes a fee-for-service approach to paying for health care. There’s a lack of funding for their positions, and, as a result, CHWs are not used to the extent they could be given their demonstrated value to communities.

The absence of long-term, sustainable funding to support them has prevented greater inclusion of CHWs in the health care system. This represents an enormous lost opportunity to make concrete, measurable differences in health outcomes for people and whole communities and to tackle health disparities, and to rein in rising health care expenses.

Join our CHW Sustainability Collaborative and unleash CHW Power

Our plans include:

Working with partners across the country to elevate CHWs

We will be working with national, state, and local partners to raise awareness about the unique role and value of CHWs and to pursue strategies to sustainably fund CHWs, especially through Medicaid.

Highlighting promising practices from the field for using CHWs

We’ll be lifting up the amazing work already being done by CHWs and other stakeholders, and developing new resources to assist advocates in securing funding for and implementing these models in their own communities.

Establishing a workgroup to foster collaboration among CHWs and other advocates

And we want to help connect CHWs and other advocates from around the country who are working on improving the integration and funding of CHWs, so we’re starting a CHW workgroup to facilitate collaboration, sharing resources, and fostering new partnerships.

If you want to get involved in the CHW Sustainability Collaborative or have any questions, let us know at CHWCollaborative@familiesusa.org. Also visit our new resource hub, which will be updated frequently.