Emily Rice Published

Marshall Health Expands Community Health Worker Program

Close up of an older woman's hands taking pills out of a bottle.Fizkes/Adobe Stock

A new investment in community health workers could help West Virginians with chronic diseases better manage their conditions through the community health worker model.

Marshall Health received a $750,000 grant from Aetna Better Health of West Virginia, which will be used to integrate community health workers at 10 new sites to support patients with chronic conditions, including hypertension, diabetes, congestive heart failure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, cancer and metabolic syndrome.

“The Marshall model is unique to Marshall, because it is a medical model. And so the community health worker becomes a member of the chronic care management team,” Deb Koester, an assistant professor and director of the Division of Community Health at the Marshall University Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine, said. “Their purpose is to really support the providers plan of care and serve as a linkage between clinical community linkage. So, when they are doing weekly visits in the home, they see many things we don’t see in the clinic.”

Community health workers work closely with local health care providers, regularly follow up with patients in their homes and communities to help them navigate clinical services and facilitate linkages to other non-clinical, community-based services.

This model has shown improved health outcomes in the more than 25 counties in West Virginia, Ohio and Kentucky where it has been used because community health workers help remove barriers to transportation, food instability, financial instability and other barriers to health.

“This will directly add it’s really a workforce development opportunity to expand the number and sites that have community health workers that can be serving,” Koester said. “It really reinforces the physician’s plan of care. And so it reduces hospitalizations, it reduces the emergency department visits, it addresses those social determinants of health that can be barriers to following that plan of care. And it helps them follow the physician’s plan.”

The Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine’s Department of Family and Community Health initiated the community health worker model nearly a decade ago with support from the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation.