Community Health Workers Bring Health Systems New Benefits, Value During COVID-19

July 13, 2020

// By Kyle Hardner //

As COVID-19 has spread throughout the United States, it has shed new light on a decades-old question: the role of social determinants of health in defining overall health outcomes.

The pandemic is hitting hardest among certain racial, ethnic, and minority groups. Through mid-June, non-Hispanic Black people had a COVID-19 hospitalization rate about five times that of non-Hispanic White people, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Hispanic or Latino people had a hospitalization rate four times that of non-Hispanic White people.

Jill Feldstein, chief operating officer of IMPaCT

Jill Feldstein, chief operating officer, IMPaCT

In addition, multiple socioeconomic factors play a role in potential increased risk for COVID-19 and negatively impacted patient outcomes. These factors include housing conditions, sanitation, overcrowding, public transportation usage, access to health insurance, and access to high-quality care, according to the Center for Primary Care at Harvard Medical School. Job type also factors into the equation, with essential workers serving on the pandemic’s frontlines, often out of economic necessity.

These trends spotlight the continued importance for health systems to invest in programs that impact social determinants of health. Community health workers play a key role in such programs. And recent studies indicate not only a boost in quality metrics from such programs, but also a real dollars-and-cents return on investment for health systems.

“It’s up to each health system to determine how to improve quality and lower costs, and the answer looks different for different populations depending upon the root causes of health concerns within a community,” says Jill Feldstein, chief operating officer of IMPaCT (Individualized Management for Patient-Centered Targets) at the Penn Center for Community Health Workers.

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