June 15th - Community Health Worker Appreciation Day

June 13, 2022

Wednesday, June 15, 2022, marks CHW Appreciation Day, as designated by The Massachusetts Association of Community Health Worker (MACHW). The primary role of both Patient Navigators (PNs) and Community Health Workers (CHWs) is to ensure equitable access to healthcare and resources by easing the burden of social determinants on populations served. One way of accomplishing this is by recognizing the importance of cultivating a shared language when discussing vulnerable populations, e.g.: “person with cancer” rather than “cancer patient”. This responsibility is especially relevant in cancer-facing work because of the complexities that exist around social determinants of health and treatment of the disease itself.

Dr. Harold Freeman’s Principles of Patient Navigation highlights the necessity of fusing a critical connection between discovery and delivery – or – ensuring that we eliminate any gaps between what we know and what we do.

How do we continue to bridge-build in our cancer-facing roles? One proven way to begin thawing any historical distrust is by sincerely engaging our patients in bi-directional conversations. This is achieved by seeking to understand their priorities (NOT by approaching them with a plan to impose and implement our own priorities), and by sharing best practices, successes, and failures with those doing similar work. Relationships are forged not only through ‘trust’ but by relating to people with openness, honesty, and making space as much as one takes up.

Most of us at Dana-Farber/Harvard Cancer Center are aware of the role research plays in our professional endeavors. We have been taught that research is vital to improving outcomes among marginalized groups. This knowledge is further supplemented through employing and tasking the right people to implement and deliver the findings of that research. There should always be intentionality when enacting a plan with priority population in mind, and, specifically, a clear focus on the impact social determinants of health have on cancer-care and how addressing them will improve outcomes. Both Patient Navigators and Community Health Workers are uniquely positioned to tackle this ongoing task, head on. Patient navigators can include trained social workers, nurses and nurse practitioners as well as trained lay persons/volunteers. Community Health Workers (CHW)s are members of communities who work either in association with the local health care system in both urban and rural environments. Patient Navigators and Community Health Workers help to guide a patient through the healthcare system, while bearing in mind no two patients are alike. This includes help going through the screening, diagnosis, treatment, and follow-up of a medical condition, such as cancer. To find out more information, please visit the Patient Navigation section of DF/HCC’s website.