East Texas health providers training people to help patients navigate the system

NACOGDOCHES, TX (KTRE) - Health insurance, care management, social services, and just learning how to stay well. It all can be overwhelming for a sick person.

Health providers know this so they came up with this idea - train someone to help out. East Texans could soon find themselves reaching out to what's called a "community health care worker."

Sylvia Santos works in a clinic, but the community health worker likes stepping out to where she's really needed.

"I go to people's homes, and I go with them to doctors appointments and we get to know them very well," Sylvia Santos, a community health worker, said.

Community health workers are called CHW's. They guide patients through all the other medical acronyms and cut out lots of red tape.

"It was faster for the client or the person to get from point A to point B with a community health worker than by themselves," Santos said.

It may be linking someone to social services or just making sure they take their medications on time. The area health education center wants more CHW's in its 19-county region.

"The exciting thing for us is our vision is really to become a community health worker hub for resource and information and help and advocate community health workers," Mark Scott, a center director, said.

Community health workers can be employed in a variety of places from hospitals to private employers. Nacogdoches Memorial Hospital is hoping to hire two community health workers in the near future.

A CHW can also be an educator by leading someone to a healthier lifestyle. That produces big savings for private industry.

"Going to the ER versus not going to the ER and going to your regular physician saves anywhere from $3,000 to $8,000 a month," Lurah Bryant, a community health worker instructor, said.

That's a fact Lurah Bryant teaches in her CHW course. Any lay person interested in keeping people well in a paid position or a volunteer position is encouraged to sign up now.

"You'll be educated on communication skills, interpersonal skills, advocacy skills are really big," Bryant said.

The goal is to bridge the gap between providers and those in need of care.

Registration for the spring online course to become a certified community health worker is underway. You may contact TEXAS AHEC East-Piney Woods Region in Nacogdoches for more information and a registration form. Get started by going to www.pwahec.org.

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