As a bedside nurse in the University of Kansas Medical Center’s Emergency Room (ER), Lucia Jones saw firsthand the need for additional health resources in underserved Kansas communities. Day in and day out, Lucia witnessed patients coming to the ER for conditions that could have been prevented by early interventions with improved access to primary care.
Through her work, Lucia noticed that due to a critical shortage of doctors in Kansas, many patients were struggling to get the care they needed in their communities. According to United Health Foundation’s America’s Health Rankings’ 2016 Annual Report, there are only 129 physicians for every 100,000 people statewide. As a result, Kansans in underserved neighborhoods without access to a primary care provider may find themselves using the ER.
From the Emergency Room to the Living Room
After spending five years working in the ER, Lucia saw an opportunity to better support her patients and community through the Community Health Council (CHC) of Wyandotte County. Today, Lucia serves as the project director of the Community Health Worker (CHW) Collaborative, a partnership between the KC CARE Clinic and CHC. The program is supported by a $1.9 million grant from United Health Foundation that has allowed for expansion of the initiative, including the training of seven new CHWs. Since August 2016, the program has helped over 1,000 patients with improved care coordination and increased access to primary care physicians and essential services.
On a daily basis, Lucia supports Wyandotte County’s CHWs in their efforts to strengthen underserved, lower-income Kansas City communities. As Lucia explains, the role of a CHW is “to connect individuals to services” whether it be clinical or social services. “We’re talking about access to food; we’re talking about [housing], mental health, and whatever the client feels they need to achieve their health care goals.”
Empowering Patients, Strengthening Communities
CHWs are well-positioned to educate patients and connect community members to essential services. For example, Roshni Biswa, a CHW on Lucia’s team, says her knowledge of her community’s experiences and the ability to personally relate to clients allow her to build trust, respect and understanding among those seeking care and assistance. “Whenever I meet a client, I know exactly what they are going through because I have gone through the same thing. I know they are going to come out of their situation one day, but for right now, they need support and help.”
By improving health literacy and empowering fellow Kansans to make better use of the social and health services available to them, organizations like CHC play a critical role in removing barriers within local communities. Lucia sees the personal connections firsthand. “The CHW’s in our program are uniquely equipped to care for our community members, because many have experienced the same struggles or barriers as those experienced by their patients.”