SPH houses community health worker training center

Nachw Unity Photo
Frances Villafane, instructor; Bobbie Bratton, SaferCare Texas staff/instructor; Dr. Teresa Wagner; and Karen Ayala, SaferCare Texas CHW, at a recent National Association of Community Health Workers conference.

The School of Public Health at The University of North Texas Health Science Center at Fort Worth recently became the new home of the Texas Department of State Health Services Certified Community Health Worker Training Center.

The center provides essential certification and education to the rapidly growing workforce of Community Health Workers, known as CHWs, and empowers communities grappling with inadequate care and limited follow-up resources. The center is moving to the School of Public Health to expand and strengthen public health community outreach efforts.

What is a community health worker?

CHWs are members of the community who work either for pay or as volunteers on the frontlines of public health. They usually share ethnicity, language, socioeconomic status and life experiences with the community members they serve. CHWs can offer interpretation and translation services, provide culturally appropriate health education and information, help people get the care they need, give informal counseling and guidance on health behaviors, advocate for individual and community health needs, and provide some direct services such as first aid and blood pressure screening.

During the last decade, the CHW workforce has grown by 74.6%, with Texas ranking third nationally in employment for this role.

Dr. Teresa Wagner, director of the center and interim director of SaferCare Texas, HSC’s patient safety department, said CHWs are vital in enhancing health literacy within underserved and rural regions.

Dr. Wagner 768x960“The collaboration between the training center and the School of Public Health stands as a testament to our shared commitment to fostering healthier, more resilient communities through well-equipped and empowered CHWs,” she said.

Wagner’s involvement extends beyond her role as director. Her research, supported by a prestigious National Institutes of Health AIM-AHEAD Leadership Fellowship, explores innovative ways to leverage artificial intelligence in deploying CHWs to areas with high concentrations of vulnerable older adults.

CHWs also help meet the needs of the approximately 3 million people living in rural Texas. Their significance is especially critical where rural and remote communities experience limited health care access, insufficient broadband connectivity and a concerning number of uninsured citizens. All of these factors can impact patient safety.

“We are delighted to embark on this partnership,” said Dr. Shafik Dharamsi, dean of the HSC School of Public Health. “It aligns perfectly with our vision to see a world without health inequities.”

What will the program offer?

The center will continue to offer the hybrid online program designed to accommodate the busy schedules of trainees while meeting the Texas requirement of 160-course hours. The courses are 10 hours a week over a 16-week duration. This approach ensures accessibility for individuals spanning the state, including those from underserved and rural areas who might otherwise lack such educational opportunities.

For more information, visit HSC’s Community Health Worker Training Center website.

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