Community Health Workers in Time of Crisis: A COVID-19 Case Study.

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COVID-19, collaboration, community, cultural competence, diversity, global crisis, personal narratives, qualitative research, racism, social justice


This article focuses on the lived experiences of those implementing community health worker (CHW) programs during the COVID-19 pandemic. Based in an upper mid-west state, this qualitative case study is bounded by the state-level context and two distinct local case sites—one rural and one urban—and includes the experiences of five CHWs, two program directors, and a state-level administrator. The acute crisis response galvanized the ongoing need for CHWs, not only because they are trusted health messengers, but because they advocate for—and organize with—communities to address inequalities and inform public health institutions. Author-practitioners described personal and community identity as intertwined, a perspective in solidarity with decolonized approaches to humanistic psychology. Highlights discussed include: (a) Personal relationships motivated author-practitioners to join the pandemic response; (b) All pandemic response efforts were interconnected with social determinants of health; (c) The pandemic was as an opportunity to do things differently with more flexibility, personally and organizationally; and (d) Privately funded opportunities enabled local areas to implement quick responses, which influenced eventual state-level responses. All authors described structural racism as a constant context of this work. This article fills gaps in the literature related to the implementation of crisis responses and CHW programs.