Nurses in training. Courtesy Cal State San Marcos

UC San Diego will use a $3 million grant to train 200 people from refugee, immigrant and Native American populations in the county to become community health workers, it was announced Tuesday.

The initiative, spearheaded by UCSD’s Herbert Wertheim School of Public Health and Human Longevity Science, results from the effectiveness of using community health workers in minority communities to spread public health messages and information during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“COVID-19 highlighted the need for individuals with culturally and linguistically competent skills to be engaged as community health workers within their own neighborhoods,” said Dr. Wael Al-Delaimy, professor at the Herbert Wertheim School and a bilingual immigrant. “At the urging of our community collaborators to design a certified training program, I felt responsibility to take that role and address health disparity that is negatively impacting these communities.”

According to the university, San Diego is the second-largest hub in the nation for immigrants from the Middle East and Somalia, two populations targeted by the program.

Al-Delaimy is the director of the newly funded initiative — Community Health Workers for Advancing Public Health within Immigrant/Refugee and Native American Communities Program — which is a collaboration with the UCSD Division of Extended Studies, UCSD Altman Clinical and Translational Research Institute Center for Community Health, Somali Family Service of San Diego, and more than 14 community organization partners.

The program will provide all-expenses-paid training that will be held in a combination of community settings, on campus and online, according to a university statement.

Community health workers are not medical or public health professionals. They are “individuals who bridge culture, language and life experiences with public health, health care and the needs of the community in which they live,” according to the statement.

Somali Family Service will recruit trainees and will provide additional services including transportation, child care, mentorship and career services such as resume writing and cover letter development workshops. It will also assist participants to find living wage jobs.

“It is important for community members to access trusted messengers equipped with the capacity to holistically relate and respond to their needs and concerns while providing valuable and impactful services and solutions,” said Ahmed Sahid, president and CEO of Somali Family Service.

The Herbert Wertheim School competed for and was selected to become part of a national network to develop capacity in training 13,000 community health workers through a $225 million Health Resources and Services Administration program under the directive of the White House.

UCSD’s Division of Extended Studies will oversee the academic components of CHWAP, which will provide an opportunity for expanded workforce development within refugee and underserved communities to improve access to health resources in a way that was unavailable prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, said Blanca Meléndrez, executive director of the Altman Center and co-director of CHWAP.

“Community health workers can provide culturally competent, locally relevant services to individuals in their primary language which makes community members more comfortable and open to discussing sensitive topics,” said Amina Sheik-Mohamed, Altman Center Refugee Health Unit director.

Chag Lowry, who is of Yurok, Maidu and Achumawi Native ancestry from California, will be coordinating the program’s outreach and recruitment effort to Native Americans.

“Our Native American community suffered health inequity for decades and was hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. This is a welcome effort to build capacity in an effort to address the health equity gap,” said Lowry, administrative director of the California American Indian Tobacco Initiative Evaluation based at the Herbert Wertheim School.

According to a CHWAP statement, the initiative will coordinate job placements and development of an apprenticeship program with hospitals, clinics and regional partners including the San Diego Workforce Partnership.

Information about the program and how to enroll is available on the CHWAP website, workers-training.html.

— City News Service