Stamford Health implements community health worker program to increase health care access

Published: January 11, 2024

Good health depends on many things: access to nutritious food, safe housing, and quality, timely health care, to name a few. Yet, in underserved or hard-to-reach communities, poverty, language barriers, and lack of culturally appropriate health information often obstruct access to the goods and services people’s health depends on. Community health workers (CHWs), a term most people may not be familiar with, improve health outcomes by helping people in underserved areas overcome such barriers.

Why are Community Health Workers important?

CHWs are front-line public health workers who belong or are otherwise close to the communities they serve. Their deep understanding of their communities’ cultural norms, languages, and socioeconomic circumstances, and their ability to empathize with residents’ complex life situations, earn them the trust they need to not only educate neighbors about health challenges, but also link them to free or low-cost, culturally appropriate health and social services. By speaking to them in their own language and understanding their culture, they can connect with them to help link them to needed services. These linkages are key to helping individuals overcome barriers to finding affordable fresh foods, keeping medical appointments, adopting healthier lifestyles, and applying for health care and other support services.

What exactly do CHWs do?

CHWs receive various types of training. The Stamford Health CHWs focus on helping people access:

  • Prevention education information.
  • Health insurance and appropriate health care, including finding a primary care doctor or specialist.
  • Government programs to help with food or housing insecurity.
  • Nutritious/fresh affordable food.
  • Physical fitness and activity in the community member’s surrounding area.

Why is this program relevant in Fairfield County?

A CHW clearly aligns with the vision of Stamford Health, to be the most trusted health care partner for the communities we serve. This program will increase access to basic health services for a growing proportion of our patients, who have recently arrived from Haiti, South America, Ukraine, and more. These immigrants arrive with few economic resources, little or no cultural familiarity, or English literacy. It will help us locate, communicate with, and care for these often hard-to-reach individuals, thereby improving the quality of our services.

By making community resources more accessible, connecting their peers to health care and social services, and educating them about disease and injury prevention, CHWs will help Stamford Health care for anyone and everyone who walks through our doors.

Meet Our Community Health Workers

Diana Dupuy-Faustin

My name is Diana, and I am the CHW for Stamford Health’s Haitian community. I came to the United States from Haiti in 2002. I learned English through ESL (now ELL) classes, making it my third language, next to French and Haitian Creole. I hold a Master of Science degree in Healthcare Administration and I will soon hold a second master’s degree in social work.

My role as a caretaker for my father inspired me to become a CHW. Because of complications from his various illnesses, he had many different providers and relied on me to be the liaison between them, and to help him navigate the health care system.

In my role as a CHW, no two weeks are ever the same. But most usually involve:

  • Linking patients to Stamford Health Medical Group’s two Haitian primary care physicians located in Greenwich.
  • Serving as a translator for Haitian patients.
  • Scheduling monthly community educational events with our Haitian physicians.
  • Collaborating with agencies that supply food and other resources, such as Filling in the Blanks, an organization that provides meals to children in schools and at home on the weekends.

One patient I helped was a woman who had just given birth. Although she and her partner had been living in the U.S. for two years, neither spoke English. I connected them to Building One Community, an organization that provides support to immigrants, which provides English courses as well as workforce development classes, such as certificate programs to become a certified nursing assistant (CNA)/home health aid (HHA), so they can eventually find employment in the community.

Knowing I can help people become independent and capable of navigating the health care system is why I am passionate about the work I do.

Luis Hernandez

My experience as a 7-year-old immigrant from Guatemala inspired me to become a community health worker for Stamford Health. As soon as I left the terminal at JFK International Airport, I felt immediate culture shock. Seeing so many people of all ages and backgrounds, at one time, and in one place, overwhelmed me. I felt lost and confused, just as I’m sure other newcomers to the United States do.

I was luckier than most because my mother was with me the whole time. She grabbed my hand and showed me the way. With help from her and later, my mentors, I learned English very quickly. I also learned how to navigate the school system, and apply to college, which I graduated from without any loans. My mother and mentors did for me what I, as a CHW, do for patients who don’t know how to navigate our complex health care system. With my help, they are learning to navigate this system and thrive.

My desire to help people is only one of the reasons why I wanted to work for Stamford Health. Another reason was the exceptional care I received after my car accident, when I needed vestibular physical therapy, and that my mother received when she needed an operation.

Now I come to Stamford Health as a former patient and a current employee who strives to put a smile on all our clients’ faces. I do this by teaching them how to protect themselves from illness and injury and increase their access to Stamford Health’s world-class health services and care. I hold monthly workshops, provide handouts, and make follow-up calls – all in Spanish — to make sure that people have and understand the information they need to take good care of themselves. I also partner with physicians to break down cultural and language barriers.

One of my clients’ children came to Stamford Health with significant nutritional needs. I connected them with a pediatric nutritionist, a speech pathologist, health insurance, as well as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Women, Infants and Children (WIC) benefits. Today, our hospital and community resources are wrapped around this family. When asked about their treatment, my client said, “Everyone was very nice, it felt like heaven.”

I work to bring this kind of experience to all our clients at Stamford Health. I can’t promise perfection, but I will always promise to strive for excellence.

Stamford Health is grateful to the Connecticut Health and Educational Facilities Authority (CHEFA) for their support of its Community Health Worker Program. CHEFA, an organization committed to enhancing the welfare of people in Connecticut by being leaders in public finance, continues to make large investments in CHWs by providing funds for programs at Stamford Health and several other health care systems and community organizations statewide.

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