Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand is a Democrat from New York. Sheila Davis, DNP, is the CEO of Partners In Health, an organization that works to provide high-quality health care to impoverished communities globally. The opinions expressed in this commentary are their own. View more opinion on CNN.
The workers who could get us through this crisis
We believe there's something that can help. Building a new public health workforce will provide permanent, quality jobs to bolster neglected health systems; create new career pathways, particularly for women and people of color; and ensure greater health equity in the Black and brown communities hardest hit by the virus.
Over the last year, Covid-19 has laid bare the failures of our health system, which invests enormous sums in treating illness and paltry sums in preventing it. With limited staff and funding, state and local authorities are struggling to keep pace with testing, contact tracing, and supporting isolating and quarantining Covid-19 patients. Now, those same strapped governments are also being asked to ramp up complex vaccination campaigns. To mount a public health response of appropriate scale and scope, we need to provide reinforcements.
Across the country, Community Health Workers have become trusted messengers on the front lines of strong primary care systems, accompanying patients, helping manage care, and coordinating with health centers and hospitals. Among the migrant farmworkers of Immokalee, Florida, for instance, Community Health Workers from the community, who are fluent in the language and culture of the region, are going door-to-door to share crucial pandemic health information and connect people to food, safe housing, labor protections, and financial assistance. These health workers are also building trust in the Covid-19 vaccines by supplying transparent information, and helping residents sign up for and get to vaccination appointments. When state and local authorities work directly with trusted members of the community, we can bolster our overstretched public health systems with local health workers and ensure we reach every community, from our biggest cities to our smallest rural towns.