Southwest AHEC

Roots of Health: A Community Health Worker Collaborative

With tremendous gratitude to the Henry L. Hillman Foundation, Southwest PA AHEC is ready to launch the “Roots of Health Community Health Worker Collaborative” with partner organizations. By fostering community involvement and partnership, the collaborative’s aim is to champion health from within the community by establishing a Community Health Worker training and placement program in Southwest Pennsylvania. This approach to improving health and well-being focuses on training community members in underserved neighborhoods to connect with and help people navigate complex medical and social needs. Once trained as Community Health Workers (CHW), people then begin employment with members of the collaborative such as community health centers, free clinics, and federally qualified health centers.



A Community Health Worker is a frontline public health worker who is a trusted member or has a particularly good understanding of the community served. A CHW serves as a liaison between healthcare and social services and the community to facilitate access to services, to improve the quality and cultural competence of service delivery, and through these means work to improve the health and wellbeing of members of the community in which they (often live) and work. (CDC)

CHWs might be known by other names, such as promotores de salud, coaches, lay health advisors, community health representatives, peer mentors, or peer navigators.



Through the gracious support of the Henry L. Hillman Foundation and their Healthy Allegheny Challenge, our region was offered an opportunity to develop a collaborative approach to better understand and address community-specific and cultural challenges to improve the health and quality of life for communities in Allegheny County.

This collaborative focuses on a fundamental problem underlying health disparities within the healthcare system. That is, solutions often do not address root cause issues. While many people want to see their primary care provider, get their teeth fixed or find solutions to their stress or anxiety, they may have experienced chronic stress and stigma for so long their brains have adopted a scarcity mindset. Their immediate, basic needs take priority over longer term health needs, because the mental bandwidth is not available to them to consider or pursue preventative measures. This factor cascades to individuals using primary care as crisis intervention, foregoing dental care altogether, and stigmatized fear of and inability to access mental health care.

Community Health Workers (CHWs) address this root cause by bridging gaps in access, establishing and maintaining connections to preventative medical and dental care, and addressing the stigma that pervades mental health care particularly among vulnerable populations. All of this rests upon the trust a CHW develops within the community.

They also have an important impact on patients and communities in which they operate, such as increasing the likelihood people keep medical appointment times, taking prescriptions correctly, reducing health risks, better coordination with primary and specialty services, and improved management of chronic health conditions. CHWs offer increased understanding of medical conditions, healthcare systems, and community resources.



Current partners include: Birmingham Free Clinic, Hilltop Community Health Center, Lawrenceville Family Health Center, Sto-Rox Neighborhood Health Council, and the Henry L. Hillman Foundation. Over the coming months and years our aim is to growth the collaborative to include additional community health centers, community-focused organizations, and federally qualified health centers.


To learn more, contact Dr. Lynne Williams or Mike Bowersox.

or call 412.408.3485

Community Health Worker Information Sessions

Each information session we aim to give an overview of the CHW training classes and have time to answer questions that arise (or one's you had coming into the info session. During this time we will: 

  • discuss the 100-hour training program designed to provide the core competencies needed for work in community based and inpatient settings

  • outline the process for state certification as a CHW in Pennsylvania

  • have plenty of time for Q&A


These info session are meant to be a two-way conversation. While we hope to impart some info around the CHW training program, we equally want this to be a time to be an opportunity to touch on what you feel is important for your neighborhood and community - and how a CHW can help bridge the gaps and address health disparities you maybe noticing. 


Regional Collaborative Partners