Community health workers (CHW) in Georgia have been essential in bridging the gap between patients and providers. While distrust is woven within many facets of medicine, CHWs help to unravel fear and apprehension as trusted members of their community. Natasha Taylor, Director of Policy and Access with Georgia Watch, notes that CHWs play a fundamental role in improving access to care and health outcomes for marginalized communities and communities of color.
“The reason they’re important is because, especially in minority communities, there’s a lack of trust between patients and providers. People don’t always adhere to what their physicians tell them to do. They don’t trust it, they want second opinions, or they just, they just don’t believe in the medicine. So community health workers are trusted members in the community.”
Natasha Taylor, Director of Policy and Access, Georgia Watch
CHWs are often unrecognized by the larger public, including state-level policymakers, for their efforts in local communities. The Community Voices for Health Georgia (CVHG) project was an initiative started to increase the capacity of Georgia’s CHWs to engage in effective civic advocacy and community organizing to promote health equity and a culture of health in the state. Georgia Watch, Georgians for a Healthy Future, Georgia Advancing Communities Together, Morehouse School of Medicine, and an advisory board of community health workers developed training materials around advocacy, leadership, and storytelling – as well as other relevant topics identified by CHWs.
The CVHG team implemented a civic advocacy ‘train-the-trainer’ model to help equip CHWs with the knowledge and skills to engage state legislators and other decision makers in Georgia. The civic advocacy ‘train-the-trainer’ workshops have been a successful model for the CVHG team and have provided the platform for additional policy and advocacy events such as the policy workshop, CHW Advocacy Day and community roundtables.
CVHG policy Workshops provide the opportunity for CHWs to take what they learn in the civic advocacy training and apply those skills to address significant issues in their communities. These workshops helped CHWs turn policy ideas into action by guiding them through the process of developing a policy pitch with the help of subject experts. At the end of each workshop, participants had the opportunity to present their issue to policy experts who provide valuable feedback; further empowering CHWs to be stronger voices for change in their communities.
The civic advocacy workshops also provided an opportunity for CHWs to identify key topics to be the focus for six virtual community roundtables. The roundtables created a space for CHWs to ask questions to subject matter experts, share resources with their peers, and gain more knowledge to become catalysts for creative change in advocacy, health equity, education, and outreach.
“The most valuable component of this being a roundtable format, rather than a forum or lecture, [is that they] really did have the opportunity to hear about new resources, new tactics, new lived experiences from the people who attended.”
Sarah Phillips, Policy Research Associate, Georgia Watch
In March of 2022, the CVHG team supported CHW advisory board members in hosting a virtual CHW Advocacy Day at the Capitol. The purpose of this event was to bring awareness to the work of CHWs and how they can be valuable resources for policymakers in identifying disparities and informing policy decisions that can improve health outcomes in marginalized communities.
CVHG has seen success with all the aforementioned events with evaluations showing that CHWs feel more empowered and prepared to become stronger advocates in and for their communities. The CVHG project is moving into an organic phase, where trained CHWs are beginning to take initiative by hosting civic advocacy trainings and workshops amongst their peers and in their communities. The team will continue to support CHWs with CHW Advocacy Day and assist with hosting more policy workshops throughout the state. A Guide to Advocacy and Resource Directory created by the team provides a starting point to research and identify the resources and partnerships necessary to uplift the voices of CHWs as powerful and valuable agents for change.