Washington helps hundreds of community health workers begin new careers

Washington's Office of Healthy Communities offers an innovative online training program for a new breed of workers that could help define the future of healthcare.

WOBURN, MA--The Office of Healthy Communities already works with community members by funding programs that improve health, such as cancer screenings and help with substance abuse. Now the Washington Department of Health agency is offering an ambitious program to train hundreds of health workers to work closely with populations that need extra help--and save hospitals money along the way.

Its Community Health Worker Training program (http://www.doh.wa.gov/chwts) gives new or experienced community health workers the skills they need to go into neighborhoods and help people receive better healthcare. The program trains approximately 500 people a year with a flexible training program that combines traditional on-site sessions with a progressive online learning management system.

The hybrid learning format, built with e-learning development firm Talance, Inc. (http://talance.com/elearning), is key to the program's success, because it allows workers from every corner of the state--no matter how rural--to participate in the training.

Prior to the program, only some community health workers had received training from their employers. Training, which covers such topics as documentation skills and breast cancer screening, was inconsistent, with varying levels and not tailored to the state's populations of community health workers. Remote areas, which are where community health workers are most often needed, offer few training options, and commuting into a major city for an in-person course is difficult for full-time workers to manage.

"E-learning allows us to reach remote areas of the state to teach community health workers. Staff only need to stay one day in each location thus lowering the cost of delivering the training significantly," says Debbie Spink, instructor in the Office of Healthy Communities. "We need the support of the online curriculum. It would be cost prohibitive to offer this training only in-person."

Organizations across the world send community health workers on house calls, especially in poor areas where residents might not have access to doctors or where they visit the emergency room for minor problems. Program graduates help clients follow the doctor's orders and take charge of their health, reducing the need for additional care.

It's an easy win for hospitals and health centers, which have invested in creating new positions for community health workers. More skilled community members knocking on doors means fewer people crowding emergency rooms.

The federal government also sees the value of community health workers. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act has pumped funds into the development of community health workers, because there's potential to save money through this large workforce.

The Office of Healthy Communities' program is popular with providers and community agencies around the state. More than 100 of them send employees for training, including AmeriCorps, SeaMar, Aging and Long Term Care, and Planned Parenthood.

Community health workers can participate in one of seven regional core skills courses and take one of eight health-specific programs. A program that began as presentation-based staff training, delivered ad hoc at employer sites, has evolved into a consistent statewide program that educates hundreds of people through audio, video, and discussion boards.

VIDEO: Watch and listen (MP4) (mms://dohmedia.doh.wa.gov/cfh/communityhealthvideo4.wmv) to what people are saying about their Community Health Worker training experience.

About Talance, Inc.
Talance, Inc., is a Boston-area e-learning company founded in 2000. It has offered courses and programs for some of the nation's biggest health and human services organizations and has helped adult learners reach their career advancement and personal enrichment goals.

To learn more, please visit: www.talance.com.
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Free Download: How Washington's Office of Healthy Communities Uses E-learning to Train up to 500 Employees a Year Download Talance's free case study to learn how this state department created a successful program to train community health workers.

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