Social determinants of health, (SDOH), “are the conditions in the environments where people are born, live, learn, work, play, worship, and age that affect a wide range of health, functioning, and quality-of-life outcomes and risks” (Healthy People 2030). Some SDOH include pollution in the environment, access to food, safe and affordable housing, and more. Public health experts now recognize and stress the importance of addressing SDOH in addition to medicine and genetics. So how do Community Health Workers (CHWs) address SDOH as frontline public health workers?
- Education. Literacy is an important SDOH. If someone can’t read at an 8th-grade reading level, they struggle to follow medical instructions or medicine bottle labels. This can lead to poor health outcomes, higher readmission rates, and overall bad health. CHWs provide education and guidance to community members in need, explaining how to read medicine bottle labels and follow medical instructions.
- Housing. Having a safe home to return to every night is vital to staying healthy. For individuals with housing insecurity, it can be nearly impossible to get a job. How can someone fill out new-hire paperwork without a permanent address? How can someone come to work every day smelling nice and clean if they don’t have running water? CHWs help clients find housing, which increases clients’ opportunities and well-being.
- Transportation. Transportation is essential to health. People need reliable transportation to get to school, work, doctor’s appointments, social gatherings, and more. CHWs help individuals secure bus cards and other public transportation options.
- Resources. Every community has resources for community members. From food pantries to free support groups, there are opportunities for connection and better health everywhere you look. But for many people, it can be difficult to find these resources. Because CHWs are experts in the communities they serve, these professionals can quickly connect individuals to the resources they need to live well.
- Support. One SDOH relates to community context. Imagine making a big change in your everyday life. If your family or friends don’t support you, it will be much more difficult to make and maintain that change. CHWs have training in motivational interviewing and client-centered counseling. With these skills, CHWs can fully and effectively support their community members in making healthy and long-lasting changes.
CHWs are essential to address SDOH. But knowing where to start when creating or enhancing a CHW program is difficult. If your organization is looking to create or enhance a CHW program, the expert team at Everyday Life provides consulting and guidance.