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$3 million grant to see Creighton train community health advocates

Oct 6, 2022
5 min Read
Eugene Curtin
Doctor speaks to patient

Access to healthcare services, routine for so many Americans, can be shrouded in mystery for some, beckoning elusively across a chasm of generational unfamiliarity and unaffordability.   

To help bridge that gap, a three-year, $3 million grant has been awarded to Creighton University through its Department of Health Sciences–Multicultural and Community Affairs.

The Health Resources and Services Administration, an agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, has authorized Creighton’s Center for Promoting Health and Health Equity to train 240 volunteer community health workers during the next three years. 

The grant will use Creighton’s existing Community Health Advocate program to train the new health advocates. The primary function of these “community health workers,” as they are termed by the federal government, will be to connect health services to minority communities such as African Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans and Sudanese, Somali and Karen immigrants, as well as people who are experiencing homelessness or unemployment, are living in public housing, or who suffer socioeconomic disadvantages.

These community health advocates are trusted neighbors who can answer questions about accessing healthcare services. 
— Sade Kosoko-Lasaki, MD

As the first certifying agency of community health workers approved by the Nebraska Department of Labor, Creighton will reach beyond the Greater Omaha area into rural areas of the state where health advocates are rare, says Sade Kosoko-Lasaki, MD, associate vice provost and director of Health Sciences–Multicultural and Community Affairs. 

“We will recruit candidates throughout Nebraska,” Kosoko-Lasaki says. “The major medical institutions here in the Omaha area have branches and offices and operations throughout the state. We will train people to serve in the communities where they are needed, the communities in which they already live.” 

Certainly, she says, native and immigrant communities in North Omaha and South Omaha, as well as the homeless population, constitute the primary need. 

“Many people have questions about healthcare, about where to go and who to see,” Kosoko-Lasaki says. “These community health advocates live right there in the neighborhoods. They are trusted neighbors who can answer questions about accessing healthcare services, who understand healthcare needs, and can promote individual wellness from chronic diseases that are highly prevalent in minority communities.” 

Creighton’s expertise in training community health advocates reaches back 12 years, according to John Stone, MD, PhD, co-director of Creighton’s Center for Promoting Health and Health Equity and professor emeritus at Creighton University. Back then, Creighton received mini grants from the CHI Health and the Omaha Housing Authority to train lay people to promote healthcare in underserved communities. 

Ten people were trained. Following that modest beginning, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a public health agency under the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, provided a four-year, $3.2 million grant to promote physical activity in low-income communities aimed at reducing cardiovascular disease. Spanning from 2015 to 2019, that grant funded the training of 50 people, and cemented Creighton’s reputation as a provider of community health workers. 

Although the community health workers emerging from Creighton’s programs are considered volunteers, Kosoko-Lasaki says she hopes that medical institutions will see their value and develop apprenticeship programs leading to full-time, paid employment, at least for some of them.  

“The idea of community health workers is still fairly new here in Omaha and Nebraska, but across the nation they have been around for more than 20 years,” Kosoko-Lasaki says. “In the Dominican Republic, where Creighton does a lot of work, we call them ‘cooperadores,’ and they are respected community people who do it for the health and welfare of their fellow community members.” 

The collaborating partners on this initiative are the Douglas County Health Department, One World Community Health Centers, Charles Drew Community Health Centers, CyncHealth, Inc., Nebraska Urban Indian Health Coalition, Catholic Health Initiative (CHI), Nebraska Center for Health Families, Lee Brown and Associates, and Heartland Workforce Solutions. 

Evaluation will be performed by International Advanced Development and Research Corporation.