MANSFIELD, OH -U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) visited the Mansfield Community Health Access Project (CHAP) today to highlight a provision in the new health law that is modeled on the work of Richland County community health workers (CHW). CHAP began in Mansfield in 1999 and expanded to rural Knox County in February 2000. Mansfield CHAP's success provided the model for a provision Brown authored which was included in historic health reform legislation passed earlier this year.
"CHAP has tapped into a successful model for improving health outcomes and lowering medical costs," Brown said. "It also gives jobs opportunities to health workers and enables them to make a difference in their communities. That is why I fought for a new federal grant program that will help fund community health worker programs like CHAP."
By facilitating visits by community health workers to communities with high rates of low birth weight babies, the CHAP program in Mansfield has helped to improve birth outcomes and lower health care costs. From the time the CHAP program start in 1999 to a CHAP estimate made in 2002, the number of low birth weight (LBW) babies in the region showed a decline from 22.7 percent to 8 percent. It is estimated that LBW babies require, on average, $18,000 worth of hospital costs in the first year.
Due to Brown's support, a grant program included in the health reform bill funds CHW programs modeled after the CHAP program. Entities eligible for this new funding will include states, public health departments, free clinics, hospitals, and nonprofits like CHAP. Funding will be targeted towards those CHW programs that tackle chronic disease and poor prenatal health. Grantees will be encouraged to adopt outcome- and process-based payment systems - similar to the "Pathways" methodology used by CHAP - that reward the use of evidence-based prevention strategies.
Community health workers operate in association with local health care systems in both urban and rural environments and usually share ethnicity, language, socioeconomic status, and life experiences with the community members they serve. They help patients navigate an increasingly complex and fragmented health care system, teach healthy behaviors than can prevent disease before it starts, and help patients manage chronic disease by coordinating their care among many providers and reminding them to take their medicine, do their exercises, and stay on track with their other self-treatment tasks. Workers also offer interpretation and translation services, provide culturally appropriate health education and information, assist people in receiving the care they need, give informal counseling and guidance on health behaviors, advocate for individual and community health needs, and provide some direct services such as first aid and blood pressure screening.