Community Health Workers and community advocacy: addressing health disparities

Maia Ingram, Samantha Sabo, Janet Rothers, Ashley Wennerstrom, Jill Guernsey de Zapien
Journal of Community Health 2008, 33 (6): 417-24
The Community Health Worker model is recognized nationally as a means to address glaring inequities in the burden of adverse health conditions that exist among specific population groups in the United States. This study explored Arizona CHW involvement in advocacy beyond the individual patient level into the realm of advocating for community level change as a mechanism to reduce the structural underpinnings of health disparities. A survey of CHWs in Arizona found that CHWs advocate at local, state and federal political levels as well as within health and social service agencies and business. Characteristics significantly associated with advocacy include employment in a not for profit organization, previous leadership training, and a work environment that allows flexible work hours and the autonomy to start new projects at work. Intrinsic characteristics of CHWs associated with advocacy include their belief that they can influence community decisions, self perception that they are leaders in the community, and knowledge of who to talk to in their community to make change. Community-level advocacy has been identified as a core CHW function and has the potential to address structural issues such as poverty, employment, housing, and discrimination. Agencies utilizing the CHW model could encourage community advocacy by providing a flexible working environment, ongoing leadership training, and opportunities to collaborate with both veteran CHWs and local community leaders. Further research is needed to understand the nature and impact of CHW community advocacy activities on both systems change and health outcomes.

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