RALEIGH — North Carolina’s Community Health Worker Initiative will expand as part of the CDC’s National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion’s Community Health Workers for COVID Response and Resilient Communities (CCR) initiative. The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services was awarded a total of $9 million with $3 million per year distributed over the next three years. 

“Community health workers have been vital in addressing health outcomes and equity prior to the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Maggie Sauer, Director of the NCDHHS Office of Rural Health. “They have been invaluable, trusted members of the community during the COVID-19 pandemic. Continuing to integrate these trusted, frontline public health workers into the statewide health system will help improve health outcomes and equity in access to care in communities across North Carolina.” 

A community health worker is a frontline public health worker who is a trusted member of the community or who has a close understanding of the community. This trusting relationship enables CHWs to serve as a link between health, social services, and the community to facilitate access to services and improve the quality and cultural competence of service delivery.

The COVID-19 CHW program initially supported community health workers in 55 counties to connect North Carolinians with medical and social supports such as food and financial relief, diagnostic testing, behavioral health services, and education about vaccines. This spring, NCDHHS committed to expanding the program to all 100 counties. The $9 million in CDC funding will help the state do that by developing a sustainable infrastructure for CHWs that builds on the pandemic response.

NCDHHS plans to expand, strengthen and integrate a statewide community health worker infrastructure by integrating CHWs into the Healthy Opportunity pilots as part of the Advanced Medical Home model, Medicaid, and other programs to improve health outcomes. NCDHHS will also partner with the newly created N.C. Community Health Worker Association as they create an accreditation process and work with state community colleges to develop core competency training.

To date, the COVID-19 CHW Program has connected more than 112,000 people to social supports, provided vaccine education to more than 420,000 people, and scheduled more than 33,000 COVID-19 vaccine appointments. CHWs also use technology to connect people with resources and have created more than 350,000 telehealth appointments. In addition to the CHW Program, support also continues to be available to North Carolinians through the NCCARE 360 platform.

NCDHHS is one of 69 organizations receiving funding from the CDC to support communities hit hardest by COVID-19. The funding, awarded through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act will be used to address:

  • Disparities in access to COVID-19 related services, such as testing, contact tracing and immunization
  • Factors that increase risk of severe COVID-19 illness, such as chronic diseases, smoking and pregnancy
  • Community needs that have been exacerbated by COVID-19, such as health and mental health care access and food insecurity

The amount each organization received was determined by population size, poverty rates, and COVID-19 statistics.

Led by the Office of Rural Health, NCDHHS will partner with the following stakeholders outlined in their grant application, listed in alphabetical order, to expand, strengthen and integrate community health workers statewide:

  • COVID-19 CHW Partner Organizations
  • CommUnity Healing through Activism and Strategic Mobilization (CHASM)
  • Foundation for Health Leadership and Innovation (FHLI)
  • NC Area Health Education Center (AHEC)
  • NC Community College System (NCCS)
  • NCCARE360 (UniteUs, 211, and United Way)
  • NC Central University (NCCU)
  • NC Community Health Center Association (NCCHCA)
  • NC Community Health Worker Association (CHWA)
  • NC Department of Administration
  • NC Healthcare Association (NCHA)
  • NC Medicaid Prepaid Health Plans (PHP)
  • Partners In Health (PIH)
  • Saint Augustine’s University (SAU)
  • UNC-Pembroke (UNC-P)