Everyone knows what a nurse or doctor is, and you might have heard of a medical assistant, but do you know what a community health worker does? In honor of National Community Health Worker Awareness Week, Director of Communications Siena Kaplan-Thompson sat down with White Mountain Community Health Center’s community health worker (CHW), Erin White, to learn more about this important role.
Siena Kaplan-Thompson: Tell me about yourself – what’s your background?
Erin White: I am a community health worker, a mother, wife, Mimi to two great kids. I love spending time with my family, making projects with my Cricut, and all the Marvel movies. I have a background in pharmacy. I was a pharmacy tech for over a decade before coming to work for White Mountain Community Health Center.
Siena: Why did you become a Community Health Worker?
Erin: I was approached by [Director of Operations] Julie Hill and she asked me if I would like to be a CHW. I didn’t have to think about it. I said yes right away. She told me that when she hears me talking to patients, she can see the smile on my face without seeing my face.
Siena: What does it mean to you to be a Community Health Worker? What is the main focus of your work?
I love to help people. I say if I can help one person, I am happy. As a CHW, my main focus is to help people with their needs, whether it is food insecurity, housing, health insurance, or something else.
Siena: What health problems do you see in the community that you have a role in addressing?
Erin: I see a lot of people who have substance use disorder, diabetes, and other chronic conditions. I help counsel them, I go over med lists, help make sure they take the medication when they’re supposed to, the way they’re supposed to, and make sure they have the right follow-up appointments. With substance use disorder patients, I make sure they’re making it to their appointments, and sometimes help with transportation. I’m working towards my Certified Recovery Support Worker certification to support SUD patients in their recovery.
Siena: What can patients of the health center come to you for help with? And what do you find yourself helping with the most often?
Erin: Social security paperwork, Department of Health and Human Services benefits like childcare assistance or SNAP, Medicaid applications, applications for our sliding fee scale, housing, transportation.
Siena: Can you give an example of someone you helped recently?
Erin: I have helped a number of people. One in particular was an older woman who was losing her housing. I spent countless hours on the phone trying to find a place for her to sleep so she wasn’t sleeping in her car.
Siena: Why are Community Health Workers integral to public health?
Erin: It is a holistic approach to meeting patient needs. Patients are far more complex than the medical issue that brought them through the door. For example, if your lights are going to be turned off tomorrow, managing your high blood pressure is not a high priority.
Siena: If someone wants to become a community health worker, what would you tell them?
Erin: If you love helping people, then it’s the best job by far. I love my job, I love helping people. I can go home at night knowing that I was able to help someone.
Patients of White Mountain Community Health Center can make an appointment to meet with Erin to get help with anything that’s getting in the way of better health by calling the front desk at (603) 447-8900. CHW visits are always free.
* This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and to protect patient identity.