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UNLV School of Medicine Opens Community Health Worker Agency

The first-of-its-kind program in Nevada is aimed at helping patients overcome the hurdles to receiving care.

Campus News  |  Nov 29, 2016  |  By UNLV News Center
health workers and clients

Community health workers will start meeting with clients at the UNLV Medicine Ackerman Center. (R. Marsh Starks/UNLV Photo Services)

The first community health worker agency in Nevada has opened at the UNLV Medicine Ackerman Center for Autism and Neurodevelopment Solutions in Las Vegas. 

A collaboration of the UNLV School of Medicine with the Nevada Division of Insurance and the Silver State Health Insurance Exchange, the agency was created to reduce the barriers between at-risk populations and health care. 

The community health workers will start by serving the UNLV Medicine Ackerman Autism Center’s clients. The school plans to adopt the concept and incorporate it in all of its clinic programs. 

“Patients frequently don’t seek care — or don’t continue their care — because they don’t have access to proper housing, food, and/or transportation,” says Pam Beal, associate dean of clinical affairs for the UNLV School of Medicine.

These barriers include a lack of knowledge about medicine, health insurance, and government benefits, as well as language. Together, these barriers are a big reason our city and state consistently score poorly in relative measurements of health outcomes. This year, the Commonwealth Fund ranked Las Vegas No. 241 of 306 U.S. cities for local health system performance, looking at access and affordability, prevention and treatment, avoidable hospital use and cost, and healthy lives. 

“If we can reduce any of these barriers for someone with a special-needs child, then they can focus more on getting the care their child needs,” Beal says.

Community health workers provide education about social services, informal counseling, and emotional support, acting as a bridge between health care providers and recipients in their own communities. Thanks to a $20,000 grant from the state’s health exchange program, the first group of 10 community health workers completed their training at the College of Southern Nevada. The community health workers will serve the populations identified as having the highest eligibility for health insurance but not enrolled: Hispanics, Native Americans, rural Nevadans, and Millennials. Several will be employed at the Ackerman Autism Center.

“This program is an excellent opportunity for Southern Nevadans to receive in-person assistance with a certified community health worker who can provide them with information and access to affordable health coverage,” said Heather Korbulic, executive director of the exchange.

Beal interviewed and selected the individuals for the training. “The group recently certified as community health workers is diverse in a variety of ways — culturally, their family situations, insurance status, and employment,” Beal said “They know the social services and how to link our families up with the services they need.” 

The community health workers also will receive further training as registered behavioral therapists to provide behavioral counseling, data collection, and assessment under the supervision of board-certified behavioral analysts at the Ackerman Autism Center.

“The community health worker agency is an essential part of the school’s integrated care model we are providing in our clinics,” Beal said. “Through it, we can see individuals who don’t know what to do when there’s a health problem and we can walk them through it. We can see them go on and have productive lives and fulfill their goals.”