How did the community health workers program begin at NewYork-Presbyterian?
In 2005 we collaborated with four community-based organizations in northern Manhattan to create the WIN for Asthma Program to improve outcomes for children with poorly controlled asthma. We quickly learned that to help families, we had to first gain their trust and to help them address other challenges that stand in the way.
With that understanding, we created a model in which community health workers were employed by the local community-based organizations and co-supervised by the organization and NewYork-Presbyterian. It didn’t take long to show that the asthma program reduced preventable emergency room visits and hospitalizations and increased families’ confidence in their ability to manage their children’s health. Soon, the program was expanded to support adult patients, and in 2008 we created an emergency department-based patient navigator program to help patients effectively navigate the healthcare system and connect to follow-up care. Community health workers and patient navigators are now at five NewYork-Presbyterian campuses.
How are community health workers providing support during the pandemic?
Community health workers began proactively reaching out to patients. We wanted to see how our patients were doing and find out what they needed — not just connect them to the medical system, but also find out what they needed in terms of educational support for their children, access to food stamp benefits, unemployment benefits, housing necessities, and even basic needs such as diapers.
Many of our patients were facing extreme challenges because their income only allows them to live day to day. Many who were restaurant workers suddenly found themselves unemployed. These patients and their families needed food assistance and connection to food pantries with a level of urgency. Community health workers helped with each need that was uncovered. When patients ran out of their medication, community health workers connected patients to their provider to get prescriptions filled. When patients needed food, community health workers connected them to free, healthy-food resources, including NewYork-Presbyterian’s food distribution programs.
They also provided COVID-specific information to our patients and provided education about when to call their physician and where to find testing sites. Through these phone calls from a trusted source, we made sure that people were receiving accurate information about COVID-19, even while they were cut off from other resources.
By early summer, community health workers started offering video visits, which gave us a whole new way to connect with our patients.
Since late March, the community health workers have conducted nearly 12,000 wellness calls to patients, completed more than 2,000 virtual social service referrals, and, along with their patient navigator colleagues, helped to enroll more than 5,000 patients onto NewYork-Presbyterian’s patient portal so they stayed connected to the care they needed. Most importantly, in many cases community health workers were the only people reaching out to isolated patients, providing the essential support and reassurance that they otherwise would not have received.