Loma Linda University’s San Manuel Gateway College has received a federal grant of $3 million to train more than 200 community health workers (CHW), promotores in Spanish—liaisons between clinical workers and vulnerable populations. According to school leaders, the funding will provide a significant boost for patients and community members in the region as well as the profession itself.
The grant, awarded in September, is from the Health Resources & Services Administration, an agency of the United States Department of Health and Human Services. The grant is for $1 million a year for three years, funding that will enable training for up to 75 CHWs a year—doubling the school’s number of current annual graduates.
“This grant is a game changer for this region because the major barrier of the cost of training has now been removed for many people who otherwise wouldn’t be able to train to become a community health worker,” said Arwyn Wild, executive director of San Manuel Gateway College.
CHWs often serve as health coaches for patients struggling with negative social determinants of health, including unemployment, food insecurity, lack of housing, and safety issues. CHWs also have a deeper understanding of a patient’s culture and are able to help both the patient and health care provider determine underlying risk factors in order to create a more comprehensive treatment plan. Payors increasingly recognize the work of CHWs, which often reduces unnecessary hospitalizations and lowers health care costs.
While still a profession gaining recognition, more health care systems are examining the role that CHWs could play, especially in California. The state recently passed legislation that gives billable hours for CHW services for Medi-Cal patients through Medi-Cal managed care health plans.
San Manuel Gateway College has graduated more than 300 CHWs since it launched in 2011.
For Silvia Ortega, completing CHW training was an extension of the volunteering she was already doing. Upon graduation, she went to work for Loma Linda University Children’s Hospital and visited the homes of up to five patients a day. She describes CHWs as “rootologists.”
“We get to the root of the issue,” she said. “If we don’t get to the root of the issue, health care is a guessing game.”
Ortega came to the CHW training program after suffering her own physical and mental health issues. After graduating, she often shared her life experiences with some of her patients when she felt it could be an inspiration to them.
“We know the community. We know their needs,” she said. Today, Ortega is an instructor in the program.
For more information, visit home.llu.edu/communityhealthworker.
By Ansel Oliver