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AmeriCorps Community Health Workers Program

Summary 
  • Need: Chronic diseases, diabetes, and opioid misuse has caused significant health disparities in Ohio and West Virginia.
  • Intervention: A program recruiting AmeriCorps members to serve as community health workers helps bring health services and education to local residents.
  • Results: As a result of the program, community members have reported weight loss, increased physical activity, reduction in medication, and improvements in self-management of chronic diseases.

Description

Chronic diseases, diabetes, and opioid misuse has caused significant health disparities in Ohio and West Virginia. To help address these issues, Washington County Commissioners partnered with Appalachia Health Corps to recruit and train AmeriCorps members to be community health workers.

Americorps West Virginia logoDuring their service term, AmeriCorps Community Health Workers (CHWs) act as health advocates by leading classes, organizing service projects, making home visits, and assisting at local healthcare facilities. CHWs live in the counties they serve to become more familiar with the health needs of their communities and the services available.

While AmeriCorps CHWs provide an important service, they also benefit by learning how to be active members of a community.

A program originally of West Virginia's Mid-Ohio Valley Health Department, the AmeriCorps CHW Program is now managed by the Washington County Behavioral Health Board. Financial support also comes from state-wide organizations, healthcare facilities, and Volunteer West Virginia.

Services offered

AmeriCorps CHWs spend 1,700 hours in service over a year's time in which they provide the following for patients in Ohio and West Virginia:

  • Peer recovery support services
  • Health and wellness classes
  • Community walks and gentle yoga
  • Creating health goals
  • Healthy eating
  • Medication management
  • Diabetes, chronic disease, and SUD management
  • Diabetes care coordination
  • Care coordination services as a part of a patient's healthcare team

AmeriCorps CHWs receive the following training and certifications:

  • Peer recovery support specialist certification
  • Chronic disease/diabetes self-management classes
  • Chronic Pain Self-management
  • Conducting safe home visits
  • Motivational interviewing
  • Screening, Brief Intervention and Referral to Treatment (SBIRT)
  • Transitional care

Results

From October 2018 to the present, 10 AmeriCorps members have been trained as community health workers, serving Ohio and West Virginia.

As a result of the program, community members have reported weight loss, an increase in physical activity, reduction in medication, improvements in self-management of chronic diseases, and a deeper understanding about their health conditions.

Care coordination efforts specifically for diabetes have helped reduce A1C percentages by an average of 2 points per patient.

Barriers

Some Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs) managing an AmeriCorps CHW Program were hesitant to add additional care coordination efforts, like those focused on diabetes. In the end, the FQHCs that integrated the new initiative ultimately saw positive, long-term results.

At first, there were differing opinions from healthcare providers regarding the responsibilities of AmeriCorps CHWs. While some wanted the members to be specially trained in medical services to provide better medical care advice, others wanted them to simply offer general support and connect with patients.

Replication

For healthcare facilities and programs interested in using AmeriCorps members as CHWs, the following can be considered:

  • Healthcare facilities have found it easier to recruit AmeriCorps members if there are given a choice between serving a full-time term or part-time term (in most cases, a full-time term is preferred).
  • AmeriCorps members should understand the entire yearlong process and commitment before beginning it. It is the responsibility of both the healthcare facility and the AmeriCorps members to know where their service hours will be focused. The healthcare facility should provide CHW training to new members and opportunities to serve in the community.
  • As a healthcare facility, be prepared to provide support if AmeriCorps members become discouraged.
  • Seek guidance from other organizations who have utilized AmeriCorps members. Ask about necessary materials for participation, including a manual, job descriptions, and contracts.
  • Every state has a commission for a national service like AmeriCorps that can be integrated within their healthcare system. AmeriCorps's payment system can also help offset the cost of hiring a CHW.
  • Although the AmeriCorps program has expanded to other states, this is the only one in Ohio and West Virginia that recruits members to be CHWs.

Contact Information

Christine Berg, AmeriCorps Project Manager
Washington County Behavioral Health Board
304.834.2542
chrisamericorps@outlook.com

Topics
Chronic disease management
Community health workers
Wellness, health promotion, and disease prevention

States served
West Virginia

Date added
July 23, 2015

Date updated or reviewed
December 17, 2019


Please contact the models and innovations contact directly for the most complete and current information about this program. Summaries of models and innovations are provided by RHIhub for your convenience. The programs described are not endorsed by RHIhub or by the Federal Office of Rural Health Policy. Each rural community should consider whether a particular project or approach is a good match for their community’s needs and capacity. While it is sometimes possible to adapt program components to match your resources, keep in mind that changes to the program design may impact results.