New Haven Register: UMass Medical School designs community health worker models that improve health and save money

October 27, 2017

Connecticut could better treat residents with chronic conditions such as diabetes and asthma while also saving on medical costs, according to community health workers (CHWs) models designed by UMass Medical School and reported in the New Haven Register.

Those models, based on successful community health worker initiatives used around the country, are detailed in a story about the role and impact of such workers as well as efforts to hire them in Connecticut.

Katherine London, MS, principal of UMass Medical School’s Center for Health Law and Economics, is the lead author of a report that describes four models through which Connecticut could use CHWs to reap substantial savings while also improving the health of countless patients.

The Connecticut Health Foundation, a health philanthropy which supports changing federal reimbursement regulations to free up more funding for CHWs, commissioned the report.

One model pairs up CHWs with adults in New London County whose behavioral health issues and chronic conditions land them in the emergency room multiple times over the course of a year. The initiative would cost $394,000 over three years and save $944,000, or $2.40 for every $1 invested. Emergency room visits would drop 69 percent and hospitalizations 81 percent.

The report details three other possible models for using community health workers:

  • Preventing cardiovascular disease complications: CHWs would link up with 148 adults in Windham County suffering from diabetes, high cholesterol and hypertension. The focus would be on diet modification, smoking cessions, stress reduction, exercise and medication management. The initiative would save $388,000 over three years at a cost of $194,000, or a $2 for every $1 spent, with “230 percent more individuals with controlled blood pressure and 170 percent more individuals with controlled cholesterol levels than if no intervention.” It would also mean two less lost workdays per year for those with diabetes.
  • Treating children with asthma: CHWs would team up with 96 children in the New Haven areas suffering from uncontrolled asthma. The health workers would do home visits, conduct environmental assessments, and provide asthma mitigation equipment and supplies. The intervention would cost $229,000 over three years, saving $427,000, for a return of $1.86 for every $1 spent. There would also be 32 percent fewer hospitalizations, and eight less lost school days for each family and 12 fewer days parents have to rearrange work schedules.
  • Getting diabetics help: CHWs would be assigned to 158 people in the Latino community in Hartford with type II diabetes. The health workers would do home visits and there would also be counseling, exercise classes and group education. The program would cost $388,000 over three years, with savings of $435,000, or $1.12 for every $1 spent. Of the group, 60 percent would “achieve good glycemic control” while 74 percent would see overall improvements in this key measure.

London, who has more than 20 years’ experience working on health policy with government agencies, leads a team at UMass Medical School that has researched the impact of CHWS for New England states and has designed possible models for both Connecticut and Maine.

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