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UH Community Health Worker Initiative helping Houston communities impacted by COVID-19

In late October, a group of healthcare workers along with UH’s Community Health Education Fellows program partnered to offer resources and care to communities across Houston that were disproportionately affected by the pandemic. | Courtesy of CHWI

Since October, members of the UH Community Health Worker Initiative have been offering care, education and resources to Houston communities that have been affected by COVID-19.  

This is part of the UH Community Health Worker Initiative program from the Honors College that started in 2017. The initiative includes members of the Community Health Education Fellows program and local community health workers. The CHWs are a mix of students, recent graduates and residents from Houston communities.

“Our project-based approaches allow people in the community to lead in the development of projects facilitated through the undergraduates and our staff and faculty,” said UH Community Health Worker Initiative director Dan Price.

The program provides not only care coordination and health education resources to places such as the East End, Third Ward and Sunnyside communities, but addresses other issues like social determinants of health, food insecurity, the environment and housing. 

The initiative is also supporting health care access, mental, maternal, sexual and occupational health. 

“(CHWs have) spent the last month refining the plans and beginning recruitment, and will do implementation over the next four to five weeks, with some projects lasting past the initial period funded by the city,” Price said 

There are roughly 50 CHWs that are trained by UH that consists of 160 hours of certification training with a  project-based learning curriculum. 

At the end of the project, participants finish with an official Texas certification as a community health worker.

“Our goal is to empower folks in the community to be more effective advocates for better health in their own communities – both through helping people change their unhealthy behaviors, and working toward making the social services and healthcare system work better for them through care coordination,” Price said. 

Although the UH contribution will continue and students can sign up for future courses and projects through the Honors College, the project itself is city-funded and that ends in December, according to Price. 

“Projects all share a resource matching process, so everyone we work with can get help as needed, and one of the projects will be a drive-through health fair at the Community Family Centers in the East End with a special focus on matching folks with available services they wouldn’t know about otherwise,” Price said. 

Along with this project, there are others at six different sites, according to Price. Other projects that will have integrated COVID-19 specific elements include mentoring for kids in affordable housing and job skill training.

The project will also host support groups for maternal health for young mothers, educational modules for gestational diabetes, job safety, tobacco cessation, breast cancer, reproductive health and sexual health. 

“We hope that, as they see them really come to fruition, the UH students will see how strong communities already are and how to act effectively to address the barriers communities face,” Price said. “They will see why public health matters and what it means to listen to a community.” 

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