Community Health Workers and Disaster Relief

Community Health Workers and Disaster Relief

July 16, 2021

Community Health Workers are trusted individuals who assist in improving health through promotion and education, help with chronic disease management, and provide necessary social support, counseling, and patient care access to members of their community.1,2   Although they occupy a number of roles and their work has been repeatedly linked to health outcome improvement, an additional discipline where Community Health Workers may provide valuable support is disaster response. When a community is faced with disaster, they may be able to step in and offer emergency aid in two main areas to include:

1.) Providing emotional and social support

Following disasters, community members are often anxious and fearful due to loss of vital resources such as food, water, and housing. Inevitably, stress, and in some cases, depression may have an impact on their health and wellness.2 It is often necessary to acknowledge what is termed “secondary disasters” when catastrophe impacts a community. These secondary disasters refer to the psychosocial well-being of everyone affected by the disaster and encompasses addressing their mental and emotional state.2 Based on their training, community health workers may be able to provide counseling to those in need, and if they are unable to meet their needs, they can provide referrals to the appropriate professionals for those services.2 Due to the established relationships that community health workers often have with community members, they are likely to confide in and trust these individuals and be receptive to care that they offer.2 Additionally, they may aide in equipping community members with appropriate preparedness knowledge and awareness on what to expect in the days and weeks to come, helping to ease anxiety and fear.2

2.) Assessing resource availability and medical needs

Community health workers may be key in linking community members to necessary resources for food, water, and shelter, in addition to more advanced emergency aid when necessary.2 They may work to assess the need and assist members in signing up for post-disaster recovery aid.Being that community health workers often live in the communities they serve, they are aware of the everyday needs of their fellow community members, and are therefore able to conduct an accurate assessment of the loss and availability of resources following a disaster. Community health workers are often trained to provide limited direct medical services routinely, and their knowledge on how to address basic medical needs may become useful during a disaster, especially when access and transportation to medical facilities may be limited. Additionally, family separation is a common result of disasters, which can be detrimental for individuals with chronic diseases who rely on familial support and care for their condition.2 Community Health workers may step in and work to provide that support and temporary medical care.2 

The value of Community Health Workers is boundless. In the area of disaster response, with appropriate training and incorporation of these individuals into disaster preparedness plans, they may be of substantial assistance in helping to sustain communities when they are faced with foreseen and unforeseen circumstances as a result of catastrophe.

– Kayla Vanhook, MPH Intern

Sources 

  1. Role of Community Health Workers. (2014, June). Retrieved November 30, 2020, from https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/educational /healthdisp/role-of-community-health-workers.htm
  2. Nicholls, K., Picou, S. J., & McCord, S. C. (2017). Training community health workers to enhance disaster resilience. Journal of Public Health Management and Practice, 23 Suppl 6 Suppl, Gulf Region Health Outreach Program, S78-S84. doi:10.1097/PHH.0000000000000645

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