According to the American Public Health Association, 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 worker to serve as a liaison/link/intermediary between health/social services and the community… A community health worker 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”.

The Affordable Care Act identified CHWs as health professionals and this led to HB5412 being signed into law. This legislation served the purpose of establishing the Illinois Community Health Worker Advisory Board as well as the adoption of the CHW definition into the American Public Health Association. In 2020, IPHA opened the Community Health Worker Capacity Building Center. The Center is dedicated to everything a CHW does, from training and career development support to CHW programming and advocacy.

In 2021, the Rockford Regional Health Council partnered with Illinois Public Health Association (IPHA) on the IVAX Covid Grant. A requirement of partners on this grant was to have at least one person trained as a CHW and it was through completing this training that the value of CHWs was made apparent to us. A growing body of research demonstrates that CHWs improve health outcomes, especially among vulnerable, low-income populations. This finding is especially true when CHWs are incorporated into disease prevention programs and chronic disease management, for diseases like diabetes, asthma, hypertension, and depression.

The Council is excited at the future prospects of CHWs in the community and encourages anyone interested in finding out more to check out!