Wendy Bailey, CCHW, CCP, has been a Certified Community Health Worker since April 2021. Before starting as a CCHW, Bailey worked as a medical assistant and in billing, coding, and insurance navigation for 21 years. “Throughout that process, I was already doing what CHWs do – SNAP, food assistance, housing, resources for mental health,” she explains.
But Bailey’s trajectory changed when her brother died by suicide. This tragic loss left Bailey and her family feeling confused and devastated. But after Bailey started recovering, she knew that she needed to do something more.
“We are left behind to mourn and grieve so we feel like a victim. People who lose someone to suicide are not victims. I’m a survivor. We are survivors,” Bailey says. “The moment I was passed a better point of grief, I knew that… it was one of those things that goes through you. People struggle with mental illness; they have that underlying disease process that they sometimes don’t even realize they have. They don’t know how to ask for help. Those people are suffering mentally. They think they’re a burden to us, a burden to society. This is never the case, we are never given the option to help.”
Bailey began CHW training for a change in her career path. That opened a position at Greene County Health, Inc., and she fell in love with the profession. In addition to using these skills professionally at work, she uses her CHW training as a volunteer county ambassador with Team of Mercy. The organization provides 1-on-1 support, group support, and other assistance to families who’ve lost a loved one to suicide.
“I never wanted it to be my brother’s brand of what happened or who he was. It seems like when people die by suicide, everybody’s like, Oh, they committed suicide. That becomes who they are and what they did. But that’s not who my brother was. Their legacy is who they were, what they were, and what they built, not how they passed.” This is a message that Bailey expresses to survivors she meets through Team of Mercy. And her work there is becoming increasingly important; the county has had seven deaths by suicide in the past month alone.
This shocking increase has motivated Bailey further. While her work with Green County Health, Inc. isn’t directly related to suicide prevention and survivorship support, she understands that connecting people to resources is one strategy to reduce deaths by suicide. By helping residents get medical coverage, safe housing, access to healthy food, and more, Bailey improves her patients’ lives and outlook.
And her impact on her clients is evident.
While suicide prevention and survivorship support are her passions, Bailey works with patients of all backgrounds and with all types of needs. One such patient was a 3-year-old with high lead levels and frequent seizures.
“His mom worked with the utility office, the local chamber, the health department, but she wasn’t getting anywhere. She was a new mom, so that was even more stressful. She kept blaming herself,” Bailey explains. As a mother herself, Bailey understands the intrinsic need mothers feel to protect their babies. “So I reached out to some people and got a hold of the State Department of Health. She got a free home lead inspection, and they found the lead was outside the home, so the city had to take care of that. She got some assistance. She finally realized this isn’t her fault; she’s doing everything she can. That gave her some fire to push back.”
Bailey worked with another patient, a young man who had lost his leg. He relied on an older prosthetic that gave him sores and wasn’t the best fit for his needs. To make matters worse, he lived on the 7th floor of his apartment building. “He had been working with management to get moved to a lower floor, but they kept giving lower apartments to other people. We finally got his apartment manager to move him to the lower level. In that process, he signed up for a trade class where he can learn to be a welder, and they’ll help him with job placement,” Bailey says. This is especially important for her young patient. “When the injury happened, he felt like his life might not be as full as before. Now he’s seeing that he can do those things. He even got a new prosthetic fitting.”
But perhaps one of the most impactful patients from Bailey’s career was an older gentleman. He struggled with his mental health. Helping him became Bailey’s mission. “It was my first month, and we had a couple who came in. They were newer to the area and had been living in a hotel. She had just retired, and he had very severe anxiety and depression,” Bailey explains. While the man desperately needed to be seen for his health, he was too anxious to seek that care. He and his wife also lacked insurance. Bailey worked to get them presumptive health insurance and eventually secure full health coverage for the couple.
“I suggested they see our therapist. He’s been seeing her for a year. They applied for SNAP and got housing. Now when he comes in, he looks me in the eye. He’ll laugh and talk and joke. We talk about the fun stuff they did in Florida. I just signed them up for a food program, so they’ll get extra assistance there. Seeing him thrive is great, especially when he comes in and wants to joke. I always tell him how proud of him I am.” And because Bailey cares so much about her patients, her pride is genuine and radiates outward.
Staying motivated on the difficult days
The CHW field is one of the most rewarding careers there is. But because of the intense emotional aspects of the job, it can be challenging to stay motivated when confronted with clients’ struggles. Many CHWs stay motivated by their clients’ success stories and inspiring strength.
For Bailey, her motivation is even more profound. “My CHW career is for my children,” Bailey says. “I want them to be proud of their mom and see me doing what I love. It’s also for the memory of my brother. I want to make sure we advocate for those who need advocacy most. And it’s for my patients. They’re the ones I do this for. They’re not alone; there will always be someone there for them.”
Wendy and her brother
Wendy and her children at the color run held in honor of her brother
Wendy and her coworkers at Greene County Health