UMass Medical School working with Connecticut on initiative to integrate community health workers into health care system

August 01, 2016

UMass Medical School is consulting on the development of an evaluation plan to help guide a Connecticut State Innovation Model (SIM) initiative integrating community health workers into Connecticut’s health care delivery and payment systems.

The initiative is housed at the Connecticut Area Health Education Center Network (CT AHEC), which is associated with the UConn School of Medicine. Through the initiative, Connecticut is studying its community health worker (CHW) workforce, the training and resources that are needed to support it, and identifying gaps. The Massachusetts Area Health Education Center Network (MassAHEC), part of the Center for Health Policy and Research, a unit within UMass Medical School’s Commonwealth Medicine division, is advising Connecticut on existing evaluation tools, peer-reviewed literature and resources, and what has passed muster in other states and at the federal level.  

“MassAHEC was brought into the project to assist the community health worker (CHW) initiative in its evaluation of four focus areas,” said Debi Lang, MS, project lead and program manager for training and evaluation at MassAHEC.

MassAHEC is providing technical assistance by developing a comprehensive evaluation plan that focuses on those four areas: inventory workforce; stakeholder engagement; infrastructure and policy; and education and community integration. The evaluation framework includes an inventory of who the community health workers are, their job responsibilities, existing training resources, and who employs them, and the dissemination of information about community health workers’ roles and functions to stakeholders, which will help inform future training needs. Work on two areas – infrastructure and policy, and education and community integration – will be done later in the project, Lang said.

Under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), community health workers became important members of the health care workforce. A UMass Medical School policy brief, Tomorrow’s Health Care System Needs Community Health Workers: A Policy Agency for Connecticut, found community health workers can help improve health outcomes, reduce health disparities and contain costs.  The brief was authored by health policy experts in the Center for Health Law and Economics, a unit within Commonwealth Medicine, and commissioned by the Connecticut Health Foundation.

Connecticut has prepared an extensive work plan for development of a community health worker workforce, said Suzanne B. Cashman, ScD, director of evaluation at MassAHEC. Cashman also is a professor and director of Community Health in the Department of Family Medicine and Community Health at UMass Medical School.

“The partnership between the AHECs is very important. It reflects the fundamental premise for AHEC,” Cashman said. AHECs are working to increase access to quality health care by improving and building the health care workforce.

MassAHEC, which is based at Commonwealth Medicine and has six centers in Massachusetts, provides health care training and learning opportunities to more than 6,000 students and health care professionals each year.

The SIM initiative is funded by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services through its Center for Medicare & Medicaid Innovations, which develops new health care payment and service delivery models.

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