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Community health workers provide hope

By Michelle Fortune

Healthcare Umbrella

Recently, I had an experience at church that touched me deeply. A new ministry, “The Hope Chest”, was launched to assist families with baby furniture, toys, clothing, formula and other necessities. Shortly after, I dropped by with some donated supplies and was overwhelmed to see shelves packed full of new and gently used items arranged boutique style in multiple rooms. Hope truly was abounding for those with needs. People wanted to make a difference and were generous with gifts and time to create this resource for our community; it was amazing! I have found this caring spirit to be frequent in our area, making it a wonderful place to live.

St Luke’s works to find ways to create hope in our community as well! A great example of this is our Community Health Worker (CHW) program. According to the American Public Health Association, a community health worker is a frontline public health worker who serves as a liaison between health/social services and community to facilitate access to care and cultural competence of service delivery. “I could have never done this on my own,” “I’ve never needed help before but because of COVID, I do, and don’t know where to start”, “I don’t know what help is out there in our community”

are just a few phrases Erin Kishpaugh hears every day in her role as St. Luke’s Hospital’s Community Health Worker (CHW). Ms. Kishpaugh has over 10 years of social work expertise in various settings including emergency shelters, nursing homes, and hospitals. Erin works to find hope and answers for patients in her role and she is making a positive impact for many. As part of this FREE CHW program offered by St. Luke’s Hospital and started through the generous support of the Duke Endowment, the focus is to improve our population’s overall health and well-being by utilizing health and social resources the community has available.

It is stressful to be a patient in the emergency department or hospital. Often, the need to apply for insurance, find assistance with medications or manage a new or chronic health condition can be overwhelming. The CHW serves St. Luke’s patients by navigation of the healthcare system to identify ways to meet needs. Our CHW can assist individuals in becoming established with primary care or specialist providers and social resources in our community such as food banks, employment assistance, and transportation. The CHW seeks to simplify a time consuming and confusing process by providing information and introducing people to community services they may have otherwise been unaware of before. This support helps individuals become more self-sufficient in managing their health and social needs and improves their quality of life.

To help advance the function of the Community Health Worker role and improve access to services, North Carolina launched a statewide network called NCCARE360 which is the first of its kind in the country. This remarkable shared technology platform partners with United Way 2-1-1 and enables health and human services providers to send and receive electronic referrals, seamlessly communicate in real-time, securely share client information, and close the referral loop. NCCARE360 and Community Health Workers are striving for the same goal, which is to help guide individuals towards a happier, healthier, more self-sufficient lifestyle through education, awareness and support. St Luke’s has been active in use of NCCARE360 since the state launched the platform in our county.

Ms. Kishpaugh states, “My experience as a Community Health Worker has been nothing short of amazing. I have connected with wonderful individuals who have shared their stories with me and expressed gratitude that they are not just a number. Today’s uncertain times may create fear and doubt; so, demonstrating that someone cares and has your best interest at heart is priceless. I feel blessed every day to have the opportunity to bring hope and help to so many in our area”.

If you or a loved one have questions about this program, Erin can be reached at 828-817-8120 Monday-Friday 8:00AM-4:30PM or Erin.Kishpaugh@slhnc.org.

Michelle Fortune can be contacted at Michelle.Fortune@slhnc.org.