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New institute to focus on community health workers

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A new organization established by the University of South Carolina’s Arnold School of Public Health will provide training and support for community health workers across the state.

The Community Health Worker Institute, with funding from the BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina Foundation, will offer entry-level training and field placement to community health workers and training to community health worker supervisors, in addition to continuing education and specialty tracks targeting specific issues or populations. All training will be based on national standards, according to a news release.

The institute will also partner with the S.C. Community Health Worker Association to recruit health workers to work with hospitals, health clinics, health departments and other community organizations to develop and implement community health practices.

“South Carolina and most southeastern states are facing a critical shortage of health-educated workers who are willing and able to enter our medically underserved and often rural communities to assist patients with proper adherence to medically prescribed care,” Thomas Chandler, Arnold School dean, said in the release. “Community health workers teach individuals and families about the importance of proper nutrition, physical activity, children’s vaccinations and the many things they can do to prevent chronic diseases like diabetes, hypertension and heart disease. Community health workers often become the most impactful ambassadors for ‘wellness’ in underserved communities. I am so excited that Julie Smithwick and her partners received this generous support from the Foundation.”

The institute will partner with the Arnold School’s Core for Advanced Research and Evaluation to assess the integration of community health workers into health care systems as well as the effectiveness of the community health worker model. The institute will also work to develop new payment models to sustain community health worker services statewide.

Julie Smithwick, executive director and founder of PASOs, will lead the institute, which launched March 1.

“This model involves supporting leaders from within communities to serve as community health workers who are partnered with health and social service organizations, but who are more importantly rooted and vetted within the community itself,” Smithwick said. “Community health workers work within their communities to connect individuals and families with resources, identify barriers, and provide solutions and ideas to improve the health and well-being of the entire community.”


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