In May 2014, IPHI and organizational partners from the DC, MD and VA regions participated in UNITY 2014, the only national CHW conference designed for and about community health workers. Aptly themed “Community Health Workers – Innovative Solution to Addressing the Triple Aim (Access to Care, Reducing Costs, and Promoting Healthy Communities),”  UNITY 2014 provided opportunities for community health workers, policy makers, and other public health professionals to share knowledge, information, and expertise about the role of CHWs in transforming the health of the nation.

By all accounts from IPHI staff, Unity 2014 was a success. “It seemed to me that at least 85% of the participants were new attendees who had never heard of the conference before this year. This is a significant success. There have been major policy changes affecting CHWs in the US and globally, and it’s clear that there are new people interested and involved in this CHW movement,” said Dwyan Monroe, CHW Program Coordinator at IPHI.

CHWs shared that they were impressed that there was a conference of this nature, which brought together policy makers, clinicians, public health leaders and other supporters to strategize about the CHW profession. Some CHWs said that although they knew their role was important, they felt further validated after participating in this conference that highlighted their valuable role in the overall health system.

Ms. Monroe highlighted that the DC, MD and VA region was well represented at UNITY. While, IPHI had one of the largest representations at the conference, there were CHWs and staff in attendance from many partner organizations and groups including Healthy Howard Inc., the Health Enterprise Zone projects in West Baltimore and St. Mary’s County, DC Primary Care Association, The CHW Professional Association of DC, and the Virginia CHW Task Force, among many others.

IPHI facilitated four presentations at the conference – three sessions were led by CHWs and one roundtable on the Center for the Community Health Workforce was led by Ms. Monroe. More details on these workshops can be found here.

CHWs presenting at UnityFor Ms. Monroe, A key highlight of the conference was the recognition of Zee Turner, a dedicated IPHI CHW who died on December 29, 2013. Ms. Turner was awarded the first ever Special Recognition Award by the Esther M. Holderby Dedicated CHW Award Selection Committee at a touching evening reception at the conference. The award was accepted by two of Ms. Turner’s family members, with support from IPHI staff and Zee’s peers.

Another highlight was a special session to garner interest in revitalizing the Maryland CHW Association. Facilitated by Ms. Monroe, the session attracted 43 interested participants from across the state. More information about next steps with the MD CHW Association will be disseminated in the coming months.

From Ms. Monroe’s perspective, UNITY 2014 was beneficial to all in attendance. She shared, “specifically for IPHI, we were able to highlight our programs that feature CHWs, connect with partners, meet new potential partners, and garner interest in some of our programs such as CHW competency training. UNITY also provided us an opportunity to assess how our regional CHW work aligns with national efforts to advance CHW policy and facilitate effective health system integration.”

Coming out of UNITY 2014, Ms. Monroe said that some CHWs recommended that future conferences provide more opportunities for CHW training and skills development. They also hope to see more CHWs included in plenaries and high-level presentations at the conference in the future. Ms. Monroe said that she is proud, excited and energized to move forward to advance CHW policy in the DC, MD and VA region. “We have a lot of work to do, but we’re ready.”

IPHI sends sincere thanks to The CHW Professional Association of DC for providing scholarships for four IPHI-affiliated CHWs to attend and present at UNITY. We also congratulate the organizers, the Center for Sustainable Health Outreach (CSHO), Delmarva Foundation for Medical Care, Central Massachusetts AHEC, Inc., and Community Resources, LLC., on a successful conference.

For more information, please contact the IPHI CHW Program Team at  info@institutephi.org or 202-747-3512.