1199SEIU Training and Employment Funds Launch Apprenticeship Program for Community Health Workers

Thursday, November 17, 2016

1199SEIU Training and Employment Funds Launch Apprenticeship Program for Community Health Workers

As the focus in healthcare shifts to preventive care and population health, a new apprenticeship program at Bronx-Lebanon Hospital Center is training certified community health workers to help fill a growing demand, the 1199SEIU Training and Employment Funds announced today.

The pilot program, which launched on Monday to coincide with National Apprenticeship Week, is the culmination of an 18-month joint effort involving multiple parties: the training fund, 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East, the nation’s largest healthcare union, LaGuardia Community College, Bronx-Lebanon Hospital and the NYC Department of Small Business Services, which is paying for the apprentices’ salaries and training.

Community health workers, often hired by hospitals and nonprofits, make follow-up home visits to patients after hospitalization to ensure they’re following doctors’ orders and to hopefully prevent readmissions. They also work in various initiatives to improve population health by targeting chronic health problems, such as diabetes and asthma.

They’re being used increasingly as part of a strategy by “forward-thinking health systems and the city of New York to identify potential obstacles to wellness and improve health outcomes,” said Sandi Vito, executive director of the training fund and one of the panelists participating in Crain’s healthcare summit on the future of the healthcare workforce under Delivery System Reform Incentive Payment (DSRIP) Program, the state’s $8 billion Medicaid waiver program.

Apprenticeships, more common in trades such as carpentry, are just emerging as a new approach to training front-line healthcare workers by combining classroom learning with field experience to fulfill a growing need for community healthcare models, she said.

“I think it’s a model that can be used wherever there’s a school-to-practice gap,” Vito said. “That means that the education in the classroom really isn’t sufficient to really understand or adequately do the job.”

For example, she said, “you can do a classroom instruction in motivational interviewing, but until you’ve actually done it in the field with the guidance of someone else who has the experience, it won’t be as rich an interaction.”

The apprenticeship program selected 15 participants, 11 of them already employed at the Bronx hospital in jobs as varied as patient transport, housekeeping and registration, to get trained as community health workers. At the end of the training period, they’ll receive a national credential from the U.S. Department of Labor Office of Apprenticeships and get a significant bump in salary.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, there were an estimated 48,000 community health workers employed nationwide in 2015, a 27 percent increase from 2012. Vito said that the training program’s informal survey of just four performing provider systems in New York City found a need for at least 180 more community health workers. The median income for a community health worker in New York state was $44,690, according to the state Department of Labor. 

The apprenticeship will enable healthcare workers to both upgrade their career skills and earn higher wages through a combination of mentorship and on-the-job training, said Dr. Doug Reich, chairman of family medicine at Bronx-Lebanon.

The hospital currently employs about 25 community health workers, who act “as the eyes and ears of the community” and bring valuable information back to the primary care physicians who take care of them. Although the hospital has used community health workers for eight years, until now, training was rather piecemeal, Reich said.

Reich said the employees selected for the program are excited and committed to their new roles. “They’re really a quality group,” he said.

The apprentices, who immediately started working under the title of community health workers, will receive 168 hours of on-site classroom learning, provided by LaGuardia instructors, and spend about an equal amount of time in the field and on the job. They’ll get guidance from mentors who already work as community health workers.

The small apprenticeship pilot is just a start, and the program sponsors hope to see it expanded elsewhere. Vito also hopes to eventually apply the model to other job titles, such as care navigators, she said. Researchers from SUNY Albany will be measuring and evaluating the impact of the program from both quantitative and qualitative outcomes, measuring how patients perceive the care, the return on investment and, ultimately, the impact on patient health, said Reich.

“We really want to show this program has a significant impact on individuals’ lives and the communities we serve,” he said.

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