Racial and ethnic minorities are disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, and Hispanic populations have been heavily burdened by the virus in central Pennsylvania (PA). Community health workers (CHWs) are uniquely poised to help address health problems created or exacerbated by the pandemic, as well as engage Hispanics in patient-centered outcomes research (PCOR) related to health disparities such as those caused by COVID-19. However, there remain several barriers preventing CHWs from engaging in PCOR, including: lack of PCOR training in CHW certification programs, lack of systems to connect CHWs with investigators interested in community-engaged research, and challenges associated with CHWs shifting to virtual work due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
To address these challenges, the project team proposes the development and implementation of an innovative PCOR and remote work training, embedded in a long-standing CHW training program and as continuing education. The team also proposes the development of necessary connections to a network of community-engaged researchers. The overarching objective is to increase the utilization of CHWs in PCOR in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic to contribute to the understanding, and reduction, of health disparities among Hispanic communities.
The team will do so through the following methods:
- Facilitate PCOR and remote work trainings for 60 CHWs throughout central PA to address the needs of the Hispanic community during COVID-19
- Train 55 community-engaged researchers and staff with an interest in addressing health disparities during COVID-19 on the benefits of collaborating with CHWs in their research
- Disseminate a toolkit of CHW and faculty training resources to facilitate other institutions’ use of CHWs in PCOR
All trainings will be offered virtually using existing infrastructure through Penn State Clinical and Translational Science Institute (CTSI) and Penn State ECHO (Extension for Community Healthcare Outcomes). Outputs for this project include culturally adapted PCOR and remote work training materials for CHWs, training materials for faculty and staff on the benefits of collaborating with CHWs in PCOR, and an actionable infrastructure plan for connecting CHWs with researchers.
The proposed project benefits significantly from connections the project team has developed through the Penn State Racial and Ethnic Approaches to Community Health (REACH) Project, which includes an established network of more than 100 community-based organizations, statewide coalition networks, and regional Hispanic communities. Specific to this project, the team has assembled a stakeholder advisory board to collaboratively plan and implement the proposed initiatives. Board members have all of the necessary expertise and experience to guide the proposed project, including having designed and led CHW training programs, current experience as a CHW, directorships of health systems and organizations that utilize CHWs, community-engaged research, and state-level positions overseeing health equity and Latino affairs. The team will also engage a county-level council of CHWs to provide critical feedback on the facilitation of this project.
Project collaborators include Penn State REACH, Penn State Health St. Joseph CHW Training Institute, Penn State CTSI, Penn State Project ECHO, CHWs, CHW employers, the PA Office of Health Equity, and the PA Commission on Latino Affairs.