WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) joined nine Senate colleagues in sending a letter to Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar, urging him to expand the integration of community health workers within existing programs at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). As the COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately impacted the Nation’s most at-risk, including seniors and people of color, community health workers are essential to supporting these populations by building relationships within marginalized communities and providing culturally appropriate care. U.S. Representatives Ted Deutch (D-FL-22), Eliot Engel (D-NY-16) and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA-01) led a similar letter to Secretary Azar in the U.S. House of Representatives.

“Community health workers have the potential to contribute to all aspects of a successful national recovery—particularly for communities who have been historically underserved and hardest hit by the current pandemic. We urge you to expand the integration of community health workers within existing programs at the Department of Health and Human Services to more fully leverage their expertise and skills,” the senators wrote.

“Supporting community health workers can improve public health, create jobs and rebuild trust in America’s communities, all while saving taxpayer dollars,” said Dr. Shreya Kangovi, MD, MSHP, University of Pennsylvania Associate Professor and Executive Director of the Penn Center for Community Health Workers.

For every 100,000 people, 72 Black individuals died from COVID-19 (when adjusted for age) between February and June 2020, while the death rate for white individuals during the same period was 20 per 100,000. The age-adjusted rate of death for Hispanics/Latinos was 50 per 100,000, and the CDC found that the COVID-19 incidence rate for American Indians/Alaska Natives is 3.5 times higher than that of non-Hispanic white individuals. 

The letter was led by Senators Bob Casey (D-PA), Tina Smith (D-MN), and Cory Booker (D-NJ), and was also signed by U.S. Senators Michael Bennet (D-CO), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Chris Coons (D-DE).

Supporting organizations include the Penn Center for Community Health Workers,  1889 Jefferson Center for Population Health, Advance African Development, Inc., American Diabetes Association, American Public Health Association, Ariadne Labs, Center for Inclusion Health - Allegheny Health Network, Chicanos Por La Causa, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia PolicyLab, Community Health Acceleration Partnership, Community Health and Social Services Center, Inc., Community Health Worker Association of Rhode Island, Families USA, Florida Community Health Worker Coalition, Health Begins, Health Leads, Integrate Health, Michigan Community Health Worker Association, NAACP, National Association of Community Health Workers, National Committee for Quality Assurance, National Hispanic Medical Association, Next Wave, New York University Langone Health, Partners in Health, Siloam Health, Society of General Internal Medicine and Southern Complimentary Wellness Center.

A copy of the full letter is available here.