Northwell program aims to reduce barriers to care in Suffolk

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Photo courtesy of Northwell Health

Northwell Health has graduated its first group of Suffolk County-based community health workers. The new, frontline health care workers, who will move into positions at Northwell or community service organizations with which the health system partners, join 25 others who have gone through Northwell’s “From the Community, For the Community” training program over the past year.

These health workers assist individuals and communities in adopting and maintaining healthy behaviors, and overcoming barriers to health care. The workers hired through “From the Community, For the Community” serve as Northwell’s liaisons with patients in medically underserved areas, where residents on average experience lower life expectancy and other health disparities. Because the workers, who come from similar backgrounds, understand the challenges posed by those socioeconomic circumstances, Northwell is hoping that they can better assist patients in managing chronic conditions and preventing avoidable complications.

The program is an important part of Northwell’s focus on social determinants of health, the non-medical conditions of a person’s life that make it easier or harder to get and stay healthy – factors that can include the threat of homelessness, lack of access to transportation or an inability to afford nutritious food. Community health workers connect patients to resources that can help with these obstacles, ultimately improving health outcomes while reducing the cost of care.

“Our community health workers help Northwell be a better partner to the communities we serve,” said Dr. Kristofer Smith, senior vice president of population health management at Northwell, at the Dec. 12 graduation. “Instead of taking a top-down approach, we’re working together to build better health from the ground up. It’s a very organic process that is already showing good results.”

“It brings a new layer to the care to have health workers who come from the community,” said Nancy Copperman, vice president of community health at Northwell. “There’s an extra level of trust that can lead to more communication, and that can make a real difference.” 

In recruiting for its community health worker program, Northwell puts a particular emphasis on reaching out to potential candidates who are unemployed or underemployed. In doing so, the health system uses its hiring power to provide its trainees a path toward financial security, one of the strongest predictors of overall health. 

The “From the Community, For the Community” program lasts approximately two months and emphasizes both classroom-based coursework and on-site training at Northwell or community-based organizations. For its Suffolk-based cohort of trainees, Northwell partnered with the Suffolk County Department of Labor, which helped in recruiting efforts and provided classroom space for training at the Employment Center in Hauppauge.

“From the Community, For the Community” was made possible by a $750,000 grant from JPMorgan Chase.

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