UT Health San Antonio selected for $3 million grant to train community health workers in South Texas

Goal is to increase workforce to serve marginalized populations, rural communities

UT Health San Antonio will leverage a three-year, $3 million grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services/Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) to train community health workers (CHWs) with the goal of increasing access to health services and addressing the public health needs of underserved communities in South Texas.

The grant is part of the federal government’s investment of $226.5 million to build the nation’s community and public health workforce. This initiative will increase the number of CHWs trained to connect people to preventive, curative and recovery services, including care related to COVID-19, mental health, chronic diseases such as diabetes, and other essential health services. UT Health San Antonio is one of three local entities receiving a HRSA grant for workforce development programs. The others also receiving $3 million awards apiece are the YWCA San Antonio and the San Antonio Clubhouse.

Jason Rosenfeld, DrPH

“This grant is recognition of the vital role community health workers play within our public health and health care systems,” said Jason Rosenfeld, DrPH, director for global health education with the Center for Medical Humanities and Ethics at UT Health San Antonio. He is the CHW program’s principal investigator and director, and an assistant professor in the Department of Medicine. “In an overburdened health system, CHWs have proven essential during the COVID-19 pandemic, contributing to contact tracing, education and vaccination efforts. They are simultaneously helping to address the social determinants of health, including economic stability, access to health care and education, for better health and well-being. Their frontline work is focused on reducing health inequities and preventable illnesses.”

The program will train 275 new CHWs across 38 South Texas counties from Brownsville to Laredo, including the area’s rural communities. The collaborative also plans to support an additional 75 CHWs maintaining state certification.

To scale up the program, UT Health San Antonio will collaborate with partners across South Texas to deliver CHW certification and continuing education training. The program plans to provide these organizations with curriculum on timely topics such as mental health, and expertise in public health best practices.

In addition to training CHWs, these community partners will also assist trainees with financial and social support, while facilitating employment through registered apprenticeship programs, internships and other professional support services.

A key to the community health worker model is that CHWs focus on building trusting and respectful relationships with their clients. “Community health workers frequently serve underserved, marginalized populations, which tend to be communities of color,” Rosenfeld said. “Often, they have lived experience that complements the technical training and skills they receive through their certification.”

Although community health work has existed for decades, there is now a wider acknowledgement of the positive impact of CHWs on improving community health and restoring trust in the health care system. For example, a UT Health San Antonio study found that one-third of patients achieved long-term self-care of their type 2 diabetes after building trusting relationships with CHWs.

The program will cast a large net for prospective CHWs, including people interested in joining the health field, individuals within the health field looking for new career pipelines, and those interested in gaining certification for work they may already be doing as “promotores” (Spanish for community health workers). The program is open to U.S. residents 18 years and older who have a high school diploma or GED.

“We want to create pipelines for individuals who may not be aware that community health worker is a profession,” Rosenfeld said. “We want South Texans to know that they can become a certified CHW and serve their communities in a meaningful way.”

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