Posted: October 4, 2005

Contact: Doug Anderson,, 651-201-1426

Minnesota's first accredited community health worker training program has been funded for the next three years with a $373,000 Robert Wood Johnson Foundation matching grant to the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system.

The new Community Health Worker Program is aimed at reducing cultural and linguistic barriers to health care, improving the quality and cost effectiveness of care and increasing the number of health care workers who come from diverse backgrounds.

In addition to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, local funding partners include the Otto Bremer Foundation, the Minnesota Department of Health, Health Partners, UCare, Fairview Health Services and the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota Foundation, which nominated the health worker training program for the three-year grant.

Started as a pilot project in January 2005, the health worker training program began at South Central College in Mankato and Minneapolis Community and Technical College. To date, 35 students have completed the program. Both schools plan to adopt the curriculum, which is also available to all the other state colleges and universities in the system.

The program was developed with the support of the Healthcare Education Industry Partnership, a Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system project housed at the Minnesota State University, Mankato College of Allied Health and Nursing.

"Our pilot classes bear out what our earlier research indicated. There is a widespread need for trained community health workers," said Mary Rothchild, the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system's project manager. "We're pleased that these local foundations and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation have funded this innovative program for the next three years. It will make a big difference for Minnesota's ethnic communities."

The matching grant was awarded through the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's Local Initiative Funding Partners, one of its most competitive annual grantmaking programs. Pauline M. Seitz, the Local Initiatives program director, said, "Community health workers represent an important entry point into health care careers for people who have low incomes, are first-generation Americans or are members of other minority groups.

"Because of the skills and interests developed through their training as Community Health Workers, possibilities open to help them advance professionally as well as to fulfill emerging needs in the health care system," Seitz said.

"Community health workers focus on improving communication among people from various cultures and workers in health care systems," said Anne Willaert, project director for the Community Health Worker Program. "Specifically, community health workers help health care organizations increase cultural competence, improve access to health care for racial and ethnic minorities, raise the quality of care for the chronically ill and educate families about how to find and use health care coverage," she said.

Community health workers are especially important to immigrant and refugee minority populations. Research shows that patients who speak a primary language other than English and don't have access to an interpreter are less likely to seek preventive care, keep appointments or comply with treatment instructions.

Forty other organizations are involved in the project and make up a Policy Council that meets monthly to advance the role of community health workers in public, private health and human service sectors and to recommend policies and strategies to incorporate these workers into health care delivery systems.

Since starting in 1998, the Healthcare Education Industry Partnership has collaborated with post-secondary institutions, the health care industry, professional and trade associations and state agencies to address critical health care workforce issues in Minnesota. It aims to improve the health of Minnesotans through a well-educated, appropriately trained workforce large enough to meet the needs of Minnesota citizens.