Who are Community Health Workers?

Community Health Workers' "experience-based expertise" is a defining trait of this workforce and translates into care and services that are more patient-centered, culturally-competent and effective (JACM, 2011). In 2009, the American Public Health Association adopted the following definition of a Community Health Worker (CHW):

Is a frontline public health worker who is a trusted member of and/or has an unusually close understanding of the community served. This trusting relationship enables the CHW to serve as a liaison/link/intermediary between health/social services and the community to facilitate access to services and improve the quality and cultural competence of service delivery.

A CHW also builds individual and community capacity by increasing health knowledge and self-sufficiency through a range of activities such as outreach, community education, informal counseling, social support, and advocacy.

Here in Maine, as part of the CHW Initiative, a statewide stakeholder group was convened in the Fall of 2013 to help with the development of infrastructure and support for this emerging workforce. One of the group's first products was a common definition of CHWs to inform the work of the project. This definition was adopted in January of 2014:

Community Health Worker:

A trained and trusted public health worker who is respected by the people they serve and applies his/her unique understanding of the experience, socio-economic needs, language and/or culture of the communities served to:

  • Act as a bridge between providers and individuals to promote health, reduce disparities, and improve service delivery; and
  • Advocate for individual and community needs