WVSOM launches platform to train community health workers

Continuing its efforts toward improving health via community outreach, the West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine (WVSOM) has introduced another way to educate the public about health and wellness.

WVSOM’s Center for Rural and Community Health’s (CRCH) online Community Health Education Resource Person (CHERP) training platform was opened to the public March 22. The platform is available for use by individuals who wish to be trained as community health workers, a job classification for members of local communities who work either for pay or as volunteers in association with social services and health care systems.

Individuals may register for the training at my.wvsom.edu/visitors/cherp/cherpregister. cfm. Trainees who have questions may call 304-793-6854 or 304-793-6574.

Community health workers are trained to help friends and neighbors develop a healthier lifestyle; answer basic questions about health, disease, nutrition, physical activity and health behaviors; and partner with doctors, nurses, dietitians, personal trainers and others in promoting health. Community health workers establish a trusting relationship with local residents that enables them to facilitate access to services and improve the quality and cultural competence of service delivery.

The number of community health workers is on the rise nationally. Haylee Heinsberg, director of education for WVSOM’s CRCH and one of the training program’s creators, said community health workers can help reduce health disparities in underserved areas.

“There’s been a national movement to expand the number of community health workers, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, because they can help with contact tracing in their communities,” Heinsberg said. “Community health workers serve in a variety of capacities, including helping to improve people’s health literacy, especially in places where health literacy is known to be low, as is the case in West Virginia.”

James W. Nemitz, Ph.D., WVSOM’s president, said he is pleased that the school is able to offer a program with the potential to enhance health on a far-reaching basis.

“The online CHERP training platform is a first for the school. It will enable people everywhere to access instruction that will help them make a difference in their communities,” Nemitz said. “I’m proud of our team of professionals who created the program and the platform to deliver it to the world.”

The CRCH’s online platform operates through self-paced learning and currently offers training for CHERP Level 1 (Wellness). The CRCH expects to offer training for CHERP Level 2 (Health Promotion) and CHERP Level 3 (Disease Prevention and Management) at a later date. The Level 1 training can be audited for free, but trainees who complete the 20-hour program and score at least 80 percent have the option to pay $55 for a certificate of completion that will allow them to take future Level 2 or Level 3 trainings.

The CHERP platform is the core foundation of the CRCH’s community health worker program. Upon completion of all three training levels, participants will have learned all nationally recommended community health worker competencies.

WVSOM previously offered CHERP trainings on the school’s Lewisburg campus and throughout West Virginia between 2012 and 2017. About 300 individuals completed Level 1 training, and about 70 completed Level 2. Heinsberg said that the program can inspire some participants to pursue a career as a health professional.

“We had people who took our in-person training who said, ‘I enjoyed it so much that I decided I wanted to go back to school to become a nurse.’ In that sense, our training may be considered an educational pipeline program into health careers,” she said.

Courtney Hereford, executive director of WVSOM’s CRCH, said the program’s goals align with those of the CRCH, and that the platform is a key step in developing a community health workforce in West Virginia.

“The CRCH drives engagement in rural health by building community-centric capacity and infrastructure through evidence-based education and training, research and outreach, and our CHERP platform exemplifies those aims. Haylee Heinsberg and the team have built a robust virtual community health worker training program that offers West Virginians a critical connection to continuing education that is high-quality, accessible and in-demand,” Hereford said. “The platform advances potential across the state for pipeline programming, workforce development and community and academic collaboration. This is an exciting and novel opportunity for our school and for our state.”

WVSOM faculty member Brian Griffith, Ph.D., served as a curriculum designer for the training platform. He said community health workers play an important role in cultivating a healthier population.

“Our program provides an online learning modality for community health workers to better help local residents. Relationships between community health workers and those they serve are vital to improving outreach, community education, social support and advocacy,” Griffith said.

WVSOM’s CHERP training program is supported by the West Virginia Clinical Translational Science Institute, an academic home and catalyst for clinical and translational research that is funded by the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute of General Medical Sciences.