The U.S. government is providing more than $266 million from the American Rescue Plan to expand the nation’s community and public health workforce, officials announced Friday.
The plan’s overall investment (more than $1.1 billion) in community health, outreach and health education workers is one of its “crown jewels,” said Gene Sperling, coordinator of the American Rescue Plan and senior adviser to President Joe Biden.
The funding comes as some public and community health workers have faced intense workloads, reactions and burnout during the Covid-19 pandemic and other overlapping health emergencies, including drug overdose deaths, the monkeypox outbreak and the resurgence of polio.
Most of the funding announced Friday, $225.5 million, will go to 83 recipients as part of a new training program for community health workers specializing in local efforts to help people find care and facilitate communication between patients and providers. The multi-year program will support the training and education of 13,000 new employees.
“Thirty million people in America receive health care through community health centers, which treat people regardless of their ability to pay,” said Carole Johnson, administrator of the US Health and Human Services’ Health Resources and Services Administration, which facilitates. grants “Time and time again, we’ve seen community health workers make a difference in reaching communities and getting people involved in care and then keeping people connected to care.”
These health workers are able to build trust to act as messengers in their communities, he told CNN.
“When you have a very busy life and you have to take three buses to go to the doctor’s office and you have to take time off work, it can be very, very difficult for a lot of other people to do what is normal.” he said “And so community health workers can be that vital bridge that can help ensure people are connected to their health care provider,” whether it’s for chronic disease management, mental health and substance use disorders, or maternity care.
30 of the 83 recipients will receive the largest grants of $3 million. One of them is the El Sol Neighborhood Education Center in California, where project director Alexander Fajardo says the money will go toward basic and advanced training for more than 250 community health workers.
“As a community-based organization, we’ve had challenges for years in actually getting this federal funding,” he told CNN. “Big entities like universities or these big players, it’s difficult for us to compete with them”.
A CNN report earlier this year described how some community health organizations — especially smaller groups — struggled to navigate bureaucracy and access funding, even as they provided critical support to the U.S.’s Covid-19 response.
Community health workers, also known as promoters, are “community people. They speak the same language; they face the same challenges,” said Fajardo. “These qualities make them more effective when they are doing work in the community. When they’re talking about Covid-19 or diabetes or any condition, because they relate to it. They have the same experience. “He is my neighbor. I know them.” ”
Whoever wants to transform a community “should look to these models of community health workers and promoters,” said Fajardo. “The system is very important.”
The remaining $40.7 million in new funding will go to 29 schools across the country through the Public Health Grants Program, promoting public health training and employment.
Hundreds of public health officials have left the field since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, partly because of attrition but also because of criticism and other pressures.
“There’s no question that there’s been significant underfunding at the state and local level over the years in public health work,” Johnson said. His agency’s ongoing work, along with funding efforts from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, aims to change that.
“This is a time when young people are really interested and engaged in public health, and that they can offer experience to start a profession and what gives us the opportunity to help us take advantage of that and enter a professional ladder. It’s just a huge win in public health for all of us.”
Sperling told CNN that the new grants alone “may not be a long-term solution” to underfunding these crucial health care areas, “but I think it will provide the excitement and results that will drive more long-term investment.”
The administration’s goal is to “use these types of funds to build careers, to give people the opportunity to serve their country in this pandemic, but to build a career in public health and have the professional community health workers that can make such a big difference.” ” he said.