On a beautiful summer day beneath the park shelter at Mt. Tabor Park, Multnomah County community health workers greet each other with hugs and joyful “good mornings.” For many, this is the first time they have met in person after two years of virtual conferencing. They’ve gathered to celebrate and honor their incredible work throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
Community health workers (CHWs) are frontline public health workers who are also trusted members of a community. Their relationships enable them to work closely with their community and ensure their clients get the resources, services, and care they need. Throughout the pandemic, CHWs have shared critical information about COVID-19; connected people to wraparound services when they get sick; organized vaccination clinics; provided personal protective equipment to community-based organizations; and more. This work is often conducted in the evenings and on weekends, and serves people when they may be scared or confused. It can take an emotional toll. And yet, CHWs continue to show up for their communities every single day.
For many of these health professionals, this is more than a job; it’s a part of their identity. Such is the case for Roger Walter, a CHW with UTOPIA PDX (United Territories of Pacific Islanders Alliance Portland).
“For my whole life, I always helped out my community with translating and interpreting, especially in healthcare settings,” said Walter. “Being a CHW, I now do this professionally. I help provide my community with resources that the government provides.”
Similarly, Halimo Alinur started working as a CHW with African Youth and Community Organization (AYCO) when she saw that many people in her community needed services and didn’t know how to access them.
“What sticks out to me is how hard it is to navigate the healthcare system if you don’t speak the language,” she said. Alinur describes videos that she made to help educate her community about COVID-19 resources and services, and to dispel fears about what happens when you get sick.
“I have a drive to support my community, and I love that my job is rewarding. [...] I am grateful to be a CHW.”
“The goal of the event is to honor and appreciate community health workers, but also to be a healing moment,” Teresa Campos-Dominguez explained. Campos-Dominguez has been a CHW for over twenty years, and now helps train and support other CHWs through her role with the program.
“A CHW has to deal with difficult situations and respond to all of the community’s needs. Now it's time to say ‘thank you,’ give new energy, and recognize all of the great work they have done.”
The impact that CHWs have had in Multnomah County is remarkable. Over the past two-and-a-half years, CHWs helped vaccinate 20,577 clients, referred over 11,000 clients to community-based organizations, and connected with communities in 52 languages. With the help of community-based organizations, 105 vaccine clinics were hosted at IRCO and Latino Network, and another 370 clinics were held in other locations with different partners. CHWs and their organizations were truly working on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic, ensuring that people were well-informed, vaccinated, and taken care of if they did get sick.
County leadership including Chair Deborah Kafoury and Commissioners Sharon Meieran, Lori Stegmann, Susheela Jayapal, and a representative from Commissioner Jessica Vega Pederson’s office, as well as Health Department Director Ebony Clarke and Public Health Prevention and Health Promotion Manager Tameka Brazile, attended the celebration to express their gratitude for the CHWs’ commitment to serving their communities.
“This is how Multnomah County delivers its services. It’s through you and your heart for our community, so thank you so much for everything you do,” said Commissioner Stegmann. “You are Multnomah County and you represent us so well.”
Commissioner Meieran echoed these sentiments, adding, “This is a beautiful day, it’s a perfect day for gratitude and joy and community and I’m so honored to be here with you.”
To learn more about Multnomah County’s CHWs and hear about their work, listen to this presentation to the Multnomah County Board of County Commissioners.