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Community health worker training strengthens workforce with connection

CHWs 1.jpg
The Wright Center
The Wright Center
Scarlet Pujols Recio is a Community Health Worker at The Wright Center for Community Health in Scranton.

Community health workers work in various medical settings, serving as a liaison between the medical world and the community.

Brian Hughes was working odd jobs when he learned about the community health worker training opportunity.

“It was kind of a feast or famine situation, one week I’d have a lot of work and another week I’d have no work,” Hughes said.

His background is in broadcast communications, but he couldn’t find full-time work. Then he learned about the Community Health Worker training program, a National Health Corps (NHC) Community Health Fellowship program administered by the Area Health Education Center.

“You don’t have to be necessarily in the medical field. You don’t have to have a medical degree or go to nursing school or medical school,” he said.

Community health workers provide guidance, education, and connection between patients and a health organization. Mary Theresa Mazur is Program Director for the National Health Corps Community Health Fellowship.

“They’re an important force within these organizations because they’re trained and they know the resources and they’re able to help doctors, nurses, social workers, clients, patients get the support they need for a healthier life,” she said.

Mazur says their job titles and duties can range. Community health workers connect local programs and opportunities with those who need them.

“So when a doctor has a patient who cancels five appointments and he finds out that it’s because he doesn't have transportation, or another patient who doesn’t know where to go to get food for her family,” she said. “Maybe another family had a family member who is showing signs of dementia. So the Community Health Worker is called in to hear those needs and then to go back to their desk or computer and find resources in the community that he or she could refer to the patient.”

The US Department of Labor and Statistics predicts that community health worker jobs will increase 12% over the next ten years.

The Community Health Worker training program, through Americorps, includes 75 hours of classes followed by on the job training for one year as a National Health Corps service member.

Scarlet Pujols Recio finished the training program in May 2022 and is completing her year of service at the Wright Center Community Health Center in Scranton.

Scarlet was a biology, pre-med and public health major at Keystone College when she learned about the opportunity.

“I want to become a doctor, but I really enjoy public health,” Scarlet said. “We get to serve people in need.”

She says her favorite part was connecting with community organizations and learning about what they have to offer.

“I like the fact that she would bring in people from different community-based organizations to talk to us about what they do to us, so we can’t talk to our patients about these programs.”

Brian Hughes is also part of last year’s graduating class, also known as the Pennsylvania Civilian Coronavirus Corps.

His position is a little different as a Community Outreach Coordinator at Telespond Senior Services. He used some of the connections he made through the training program to bring new activities to the senior day center.

“I’ve been mostly a radio guy,” he said. “I’ve been able to expand a bit, and learn about graphic design and public relations, so those are a couple of things I really didn’t get a chance to do prior in my professional career, but this is something that I’ve been able to take away from this, and just being able to reach out to broadcast media and other professionals and so many other organizations that I never knew existed.”

Students attended a 3-hour class twice a week from May to August, and then began their year of service at a healthcare or social service agency. Possible host sites include Allied Services, the City of Scranton’s Public Health Department, the Geno Merli Veterans’ Center, and the Hazleton Integration Project.

After completing the program, graduates can apply to become a Certified Community Health Worker through the state.

The 2022 class still meets monthly for continuing training on topics including structural oppression, disability awareness, diversity, trauma-informed care, equity and inclusion.

The next Community Health Worker training program will begin September 11th, 2023. Anyone interested in enrolling can find more information at https://www.pachw.org/ or e-mail Mary Theresa Mazur at mmazur@nepa-ahec.org.