New report: How community health workers can improve health and save money

June 19, 2017

Foundation releases blueprint for Connecticut based on successful models in other states

HARTFORD, Conn. (June 15, 2017) – Health care organizations in Connecticut could improve the health of high-need patients with asthma, diabetes, and other chronic conditions while also saving money by hiring community health workers, according to an analysis released by the Connecticut Health Foundation.

Community health workers are frontline public health workers who can help bridge the gaps between clinical care and the many factors outside the doctor’s office that affect patients’ health. Many already operate in Connecticut, often referred to by titles such as patient navigators, health coaches, or peer educators.

Although research has demonstrated that community health workers can improve health outcomes, particularly for high-need patients, their services have typically been funded through grants and other temporary payment sources. Even successful programs often face the risk of elimination if funding can’t be sustained.

“Community health workers can play a critical role in the health care system by ensuring that patients can get what they need to take care of their health, whether it’s helping patients understand how to manage their chronic conditions, connecting individuals to social services to address their most pressing needs, or helping to translate a doctor’s orders,” said Patricia Baker, president and CEO of the Connecticut Health Foundation. “Over the years, the foundation has supported many community health worker programs, and their value has been proven again and again. Our goal now is to ensure that they can be more sustainably embedded in the health care system.”

The report offers a blueprint for potential programs that hospital systems, insurance companies, community organizations and other groups could pilot to both improve health outcomes and achieve a positive return on investment. Each model is projected to cost less than it would save in direct medical costs.

A program targeted at frequent emergency department users with behavioral health needs in New London County, for example, would be projected to save $2.40 in health care costs for every $1 invested, according to the report. In that program, community health workers would connect patients with a primary care provider, help them better navigate the health care system, and assist them in accessing community resources to address housing and other nonmedical issues that affect their well-being.

The other models identified in the report would focus on children with uncontrolled asthma in Greater New Haven, Latinos with diabetes in Hartford, adults with complex health care needs and frequent emergency department visits in New London County, and adults with cardiovascular risk factors in Windham County.

“Community health worker services represent both good health care and good business,” said Gregory B. Butler, chair of the Connecticut Health Foundation’s board of directors. “This report makes a business case for community health workers, and will help those leading health care organizations ensure they are investing in interventions that will bring results.”

The report was prepared by Katharine London, Kelly Love, and Roosa Tikkanen at the University of Massachusetts Medical School’s Center for Health Law and Economics and based on successful models in other states. It is intended to serve as a toolkit for health care organizations in Connecticut to use in implementing community health worker services.

For a brief version of the report, click here.

For more information on the report, or to learn more about the work of community health workers, please contact Arielle Levin Becker at 860-724-1580 x 16, or arielle@cthealth.org.

About the Connecticut Health Foundation
The Connecticut Health Foundation (CT Health) is the state’s largest independent health philanthropy dedicated to improving lives by changing health systems. Since it was established in 1999, the foundation has supported innovative grantmaking, public policy research technical assistance and convening to achieve its mission – to improve the health of the people of Connecticut. Over the past 17 years, CT Health has awarded grants totaling more than $59 million in 45 cities and towns throughout the state.

For more information about the foundation, please visit www.cthealth.org or 860.724.1580.