New state program standardizes training and certification for CHWs

Author
Morgan Steward, Executive Coordinator & Special Assistant, Board Governance
Date
August 18, 2021
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In May 2020, a group of New Jersey employers, community colleges, and other entities partnered together to launch the state’s first-ever community health worker institute. The Colette Lamothe-Galette – Community Health Worker Institute (CLG-CHWI) is a statewide program that sits within the New Jersey Department of Health (NJDOH) and provides standardized education and recognized certification for community health workers (CHW) using an apprenticeship model. The institute is named after New Jersey public health hero, Colette Lamothe-Galette, who passed away in April 2020 due to complications from COVID. She was considered a leader in public health in New Jersey whose life’s work was dedicated to addressing health equity and disparities.

The CLG-CHWI is spearheaded by a steering committee led by Assistant Commissioner Lisa Asare and supported by NJDOH Program Coordinator Pamela Taylor and team. The three working groups below are charged to oversee various parts of the Institute to ensure the curriculum and training, recruitment process and workforce development, and identified sustainable payment methods and career pathways align with the overall vision of the program: 

  • Curriculum – chaired by the Camden Coalition’s Sr. Director of Community Engagement & Capacity Building Victor Murray

  • Outreach Recruitment and Recruitment – chaired by Area Health Education Center’s Executive Director and Camden Coalition’s Board Vice-Chair Martha Chavis

  • Sustainability – chaired by Seton Hall law professors John Jacobi and Tara Ragone

The CLG-CHWI was created by the state of New Jersey to standardize education and training in order to establish a workforce of highly trained CHWs who can advance health outcomes for communities throughout New Jersey. Camden Coalition staff collaborated with the state to help develop a model that would increase job retention and create a pathway for CHWs to obtain advanced credentials with increased rates of pay. 

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the work of community health workers and their impact on those they serve are now at the forefront of public health. These dedicated frontline workers have a specialized skill set and often develop trusting relationships within the communities they serve. They are viewed as advocates who empower community members with the health knowledge and resources they need to maintain healthy lifestyles. This trusted position in their communities allows them to serve as a liaison between individuals and various healthcare and social services, bridging the gap caused by disparities in care and social determinants of health. In this way, CHWs hold a vital role in improving health outcomes and promoting health equity.

Due to their versatility and the fact that the exact role a CHW plays can vary between employers, regions, and states, there is a need to standardize CHW training. Over the past year, I’ve had the pleasure of working alongside the NJDOH team and Victor Murray to develop various components of the program’s curriculum that academic partners used to structure their colleges’ CHW certification program. Throughout this process, our team met with local and national thought partners, current CHWs, and CHW supervisors to exchange ideas and experiences. Their knowledge and unmatched perspective has helped shape the training and development of fundamental and applicable core competencies.

Currently, county colleges from Camden, Essex, Ocean, and Mercer counties have joined as academic partners to provide 144 hours of classroom instruction to students before they receive 2,000 hours of on-the-job training with an employer partner. The first cohort of students began their training at Essex County College in October 2020 with cohorts from Ocean, Mercer, and Camden County Colleges following suit at the start of 2021. Dottie Scott, Anna Muniz, and Ashley Serrano enrolled in the program and work as CHWs within the Camden Coalition. 

“The CLG-CHWI experience was great,” said Dottie Scott, who enrolled in CLG-CHWI through Camden County College and obtained her CHW certification in July 2021.  “The class helped me better understand trauma-informed care and provided more insight into the community health worker role,” said Scott. Scott currently works on the Camden Coalition’s Care Management Initiatives team, providing various levels of clinical care assistance to medically and socially complex patients. 

In the future, the CLG-CHWI is hoping to provide opportunities for further career development for CHWs, such as the possibility of creating additional educational pathways that can transfer to advanced degrees.

“We look forward to fortifying the CHW role and expanding the CLG-CHWI to offer more training, specialized tracks, bilingual classes, and networking opportunities,” said Pamela Taylor, NJDOH CLG-CHWI Program Coordinator. 

Given CHWs important role in advancing health equity and addressing social determinants of health, these efforts could not have come at a better time.

To learn how to enroll into the CLG-CHWI as a CHW student or academic partner visit https://www.nj.gov/health/fhs/clgi/index.shtml

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