IDPH provides $10 million to Illinois community health workers expanding mission – Heart of Illinois ABC

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SPRINGFIELD (WGEM) – The Illinois Public Health Association and Illinois Primary Health Care Association helped train 650 people to be health care workers in their communities during the COVID-19 pandemic. These pandemic health navigators served people in 92 counties, but some were worried their work would come to an end without funding.

The Illinois Department of Public Health provided the pandemic health navigator program with $10 million Thursday to help the community health workers stay in their roles in 27 counties. This announcement came the same day the program was originally set to end.

Dr. Tracey Smith, the community health director for the Illinois Public Health Association, said many of the community health workers hired earlier in the pandemic have gone on to new jobs using skills they learned through the program. Smith said she is grateful Gov. JB Pritzker and IDPH worked with health care leaders to find enough funding to continue this work.

“We’ve been fortunate to be awarded a couple of grants that will allow us to continue on with much of the work that the pandemic health navigators did around social determinants of health and addressing those health disparities,” Smith said. “Whether that’s food, housing, whether that is mental health support, it is across the gamut.”

Smith noted this funding will keep people on the ground who understand those concepts and can help people receive the resources they need. The health care organizations plan to train new community health workers interested in joining the effort. They also plan to train all of the workers in educating the public about COVID-19 vaccinations and helping people with chronic illnesses like diabetes and hypertension.

The Health Equity Pandemic Health Navigator Project will be available in Alexander, Boone, Cass, Clay, Douglas, Fayette, Franklin, Hardin, Henderson, Jackson, Jefferson, Kane, Kankakee, Lake, Lawrence, Macon, Marion, Perry, Pope, Pulaski, Rock Island, St. Clair, Saline, Union, Vermillion, White and Winnebago counties. Smith said there are still 450 community health workers, but they hope to recruit more neighbors to have a staff of 500 people.

Community organizations like the NAACP and Illinois Migrant Council worked with the Illinois Primary Health Care Association to expand the health care services in underrepresented communities during the pandemic. Theresa Haley, state president of the NAACP, said community health workers have helped to address health care deserts across the state. Haley said the NAACP hosted a back-to-school physical program with Black doctors and medical students from the SIU School of Medicine.

“One of the doctors said to me they had never seen so many kids on one day show up,” Haley said. “She said this looks like something you would see in another country. We probably serviced 350 kids that particular day. This grant has allowed our communities to realize that there is a disparity, and now America is watching.”

Haley stressed that health equity is definitely important to improve outcomes for people in Black and brown communities. Maggie Rivera, the president and CEO of the Illinois Migrant Council says community health workers helped break through barriers.

“We are removing beliefs that are myths more than they are truth,” Rivera said. “So we are able to build confidence within the medical field that our Hispanic communities or other Latin American countries or other recently arrived refugees may have and they develop hesitancies in not only getting vaccinated but also going to a doctor.”

Rivera noted that educating and connecting the public to resources helps everyone. Dr. Smith noted that educating health care providers in other systems about the cultural specifics can help them respond to questions in a way that develops more trust with patients.

More than 137,000 Illinoisans have been helped by community health workers since March 2021. The Illinois Public Health Association says most of those requests for assistance were fulfilled within 48 hours. Roughly 40% of the people hired to become public health navigators were unemployed. IPHA also said nearly 60% of the community health workers identify as non-white.

Copyright 2022 WGEM. All rights reserved.

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July 1, 2022 at 07:11PM

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