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Released August 19, 2003


HATTIESBURG - The University of Southern Mississippi's Center for Sustainable Health Outreach (CSHO) recently received a $481,250 grant from the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA). The appropriation will fund CSHO's continuing work as the only national center promoting community health worker programs in the United States.

Community health workers are people who work in the communities they call home, acting as liaisons between their clients and the health care system. Their familiarity with the people they serve and the problems those people face makes them an invaluable part of the health and human services systems.

"Typically, community health workers are serving those hard-to-reach, underserved populations," said Jennifer Downey, CSHO's communications director. "They address barriers, such as language and culture, that have kept those folks from appropriately accessing the traditional health and human services systems."

CSHO's co-director, Dr. Agnes Hinton, said that community health workers are key components of the health care system.

"Community health workers are essential, integral, and powerful promoters of health, wellness and disease prevention in their communities," Hinton said. "They are often the key to overcoming the communication barriers between community members and service providers. Their services can be really quite invaluable."

The methods by which community health workers serve their communities vary widely. Some focus only on specific ailments while others work with a variety of problems; some work virtually "door to door" while others are based out of specific clinics and hospitals.

"Community health workers are there to, first of all, take away the fear associated with the health and human services systems, and to let people know what resources are available to them," Downey said. "They're also there to spot signs and symptoms of problems, so that they can then help those folks to get care. They can also serve as patient navigators who help them access those services - staying there with them in the emergency room, and acting as a translator if necessary between that patient and the health care providers."

These are members of the health care process who are "in the trenches," Downey said.

The grant recently received by CSHO is a continuation of the 1999 appropriation that originally funded the center, which was created by co-directors Hinton and Jason Newman, esq., director of the Harrison Institute for Public Law of the Georgetown University Law Center. Offices for the CSHO were set up at Southern Miss and at Georgetown.

While CSHO has a national focus, Southern Miss' staff has supported the implementation of a number of community health worker programs in Mississippi. These include 10 maternal/infant health outreach worker programs and the Deep South Network for Cancer Control in Forrest and Jones counties and nine delta counties.


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April 20, 2004 4:09 PM