Through our “Critical Links” community health workers (CHWs) initiative, the Blue Cross Foundation has served as a catalyst to promote the use of CHWs as a strategy for improving health care cultural competence, addressing training and Minnesota's health care work force shortage and reducing health disparities by race, ethnicity and foreign-born status.
CHWs deliver culturally appropriate health education, health promotion and supportive health services to patients who face linguistic and cultural barriers to accessing health care. Their functions vary across the organizations that employ them and the populations they serve.
In some cases, CHWs help patients obtain health coverage, make medical appointments and follow through on treatment recommendations. In other cases, CHWs provide outreach, referral and education about specific health issues such as diabetes or teenage pregnancy. Typically, they are bicultural and bilingual individuals whose effectiveness stems from their membership in and understanding of the communities they serve. CHWs serve as a crucial bridge between cultural groups and the health systems that serve them.
Critical Links advances the training and use of CHWs through:
The Blue Cross Foundation has provided a two-year grant to the Healthcare Education and Industry Partnership (HEIP), a program of the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities, to support the development of a standardized training curriculum for community health workers through the state’s community college system. The foundation’s successful nomination of HEIP under the Local Initiatives Funding Partnership led to a planning grant by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
The foundation provides grant support to CHW programs throughout Minnesota. See “grantees” for more information.
The foundation has conducted two studies related to the use and training needs of CHWs in Minnesota. See “news and updates” for these reports.