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Frontline Health Workers Are National Heroes. It's Time to Invest in Them

Frontline Health Workers Are National Heroes. It's Time to Invest in Them
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The COVID-19 pandemic has shed a harsh light on the social and racial health inequities that have long existed in the United States. These life-threatening inequities underscore the need for access to quality healthcare for every community—especially those with the most vulnerable, at-risk and underserved populations. This pandemic has been devastating, to put it lightly, and our frontline health workers have risen to the challenge each and every day. They have put their lives and well-being on the line, and through it all, they have remained committed to their teams and their work. Now more than ever, we need to provide critical workforce development and training to the health workers keeping our communities safe and healthy.

Through Johnson & Johnson’s Our Race to Health Equity initiative, we’re proud to have provided grants to 11 health clinics as part of the National Association of Community Health Center’s (NACHC) Workforce Development Grant Program. These grants will help enhance the skills of frontline healthcare workers and mid-level managers who have been working tirelessly in communities throughout the country that have been continuously under-resourced while battling everything that comes with the COVID-19 pandemic.

The NACHC Workforce Development Grant Program is an example of how Johnson & Johnson is actively working to support marginalized communities—by investing in essential staffers who are responsible for the successful operation and sustainability of our nation’s health centers. In order to apply for the grant, prospective health centers needed a patient base of 51% (or higher) minority populations. The grant program was highly competitive, and notably, all 11 recipients are located in the American South. This geographic distribution speaks volumes about the state of community health clinics in our country.

The South is home to many marginalized communities, and has historically been under-resourced and served by many sectors and institutions. In fact, it is home to the largest population of Black communities. Research has shown us that Black Americans and Latinx Americans are more likely to live in poorer health than their white counterparts, often facing shorter life expectancies.

The Association of American Medical Colleges summarizes it well: “These rural health disparities are deeply rooted in economic, social, racial, ethnic, geographic and health workforce factors. That complex mix limits access to care, makes finding solutions more difficult, and intensifies problems for rural communities everywhere.” When structural racism and cultural ignorance collide the results are often traumatic, tragic and even fatal.

This is why community health centers are so crucial to our healthcare system. They often fill gaps in care for marginalized and rural communities, ultimately ensuring that manageable illnesses, like diabetes and hypertension, do not become death sentences for people of color. Throughout the pandemic, community health centers have become an invaluable lifeline for their communities, providing COVID-19 education, testing and prevention. It also allows for those in need of care to receive it from healthcare workers who are their same racial, ethnic and cultural identifications.

Community health centers have a big job, they’re doing their best—but they also need our help. Workforce training is a powerful, yet simple, way to support frontline healthcare workers. Yet, too many clinics are making do with little, and cannot afford to provide such training for their employees. By providing grants to 11 healthcare centers in the South, Johnson & Johnson is helping to enable these health centers to develop and provide workforce training, ultimately beginning to fill the long-standing health equity gaps that can mean life or death for so many rural Americans.

Frontline healthcare workers are the backbone of our nation’s health systems. More often than not, they are members of the communities they serve, bringing a cultural awareness that helps make their care even more effective. Frontline healthcare workers are fiercely dedicated to their communities, and we hope these grants provide encouragement and acknowledgement for all they do for their patients. Professional support for these providers, like the NACHC grant program, allow further opportunities for improved health, greater education and stronger community support.

We hope the NACHC Workforce Development Grant Program will inspire more institutions and organizations in the healthcare sector to support health workers. This work requires a strong and wide-reaching effort—it will take all of us, showing up in meaningful ways, to support communities who have been left behind time and time again. By providing crucial and strategic investments in community health centers, we can create and expand a health system that is based on culturally competent care for all. Together, we can achieve a healthier world for everyone, everywhere.

Congratulations—and thank you— to the 11 community health centers who were chosen as grant recipients. You can learn more about their important work below:

Advance Community Health LLC (Raleigh, NC): “Providing our staff with Customer Service Training will go a long way in improving patient experience. Patients' experiences with care, particularly communication with providers, correlate with adherence to medical advice and treatment plans. This is especially true among patients with chronic conditions.”

Amistad Community Health Center (Corpus Christie, TX): “We hope to help our staff gain the insight and skills needed to form human connections with our patients, which is critical for the patients’ overall care. We serve a diverse population. Recognition of the intricacies that go into patient interactions is a key step in partnering with them to overcome access barriers.”

Carolina Health Centers, Inc. (Greenwood, SC): “A win for us would be to create a new, professional cultural norm for us to openly discuss the role race and ethnicity play in the delivery of care, and how it impacts our patients’ access to care. This would help create a cultural shift in our organization where all planning and decision making prioritizes race and ethnicity as one of our key considerations.”

Centro de Salud Familiar La Fe, Inc. (El Paso, TX): “We want to acknowledge our staff’s resilience and turn our experiences into a performance-improvement strategy to increase our capacity to respond to future emergency-preparedness situations and adverse challenges. These skills will allow us to provide more effective, post-pandemic health-care, and improve our ability to implement emergency-preparedness strategies more efficiently for future health emergencies.”

Chattanooga Hamilton Erlanger Hospital (Chattanooga, TN): “Our workforce training program will focus on staff recognition. A happy staff equals greater productivity and lower turnover for an organization, which translates into improved patient care and satisfaction. The best ideas and solutions for healthcare challenges happen when people feel they can bring their authentic selves to work.”

Community Health Care Systems (Tennille, GA): “By educating our staff on racial health disparities, the organization can work together as a team to close inequity gaps and provide better assistance to patients in the midst of the pandemic, including the implementation of remote patient monitoring on a broader scale for chronic disease patients.”

First Choice Primary Care (Macon, GA): “Our patient population’s greatest health disparity is hypertension. Although we know we can not lower hypertension with workforce training, the training will help our staff to be better equipped to educate our patients on the disease and medications while adding comfort to their experience, which of course, lowers stress levels, leading to better overall health.”

Neighborhood Improvement Project, Inc. (Greenwood, SC): “The end goal of our project is to set in motion a model of ‘compassionate care,’ built on MAP’s vision to become ‘the premiere Federally Qualified Healthcare Center (FQHC) in the state of Georgia’ as measured by improvement in patient experience feedback, quality of care outcomes, employee engagement survey results and employee retention and overall growth.”

Portsmouth Community Health Center / Hampton Roads Community Health Center (Portsmouth, VA): “Our project involves providing frontline staff with advanced training on social determinants of health (SDoH). The ultimate goal is to ensure that all patients receive the highest quality of care and achieve health equity. This project also allows staff members to reflect and examine patient care challenges such as these and brainstorm more compassionate staff responses.”

Roanoke Chowan Community Health Center (Ahoskie, NC): “RCCHC is committed to ensuring our institutional structures incorporate evidence-based processes to deliver equitable patient-centered care. Our aim is to employ, train, retain, promote and support a workforce that reflects, appreciates and understands the populations we serve.”

Rural Health Group, Inc. (Roanoke Rapids, NC): “Funding will support our ability to identify potential areas of bias among our racial and ethnic minorities with uncontrolled hypertension and intervene by developing processes to ensure equitable treatment for all. A ‘win’ for us would consist of at least 30% of providers and staff understanding the value of addressing implicit bias to improve patient outcomes.”