COCC celebrates first graduating class of Community Health Workers


Central Oregon Community College graduated its first class of “Community Health Workers” Friday.

The newly certified CHWs will serve as liaisons between health service agencies and community members.

Community Health Workers specialize in connecting people to services.

“You see them in clinic settings where they are working with a team of nurses and doctors helping someone who has a chronic disease like diabetes or heart disease and try and help them manage that disease,” said Sarah Baron, COCC Assistant Professor of Public Health.

This is the first Community Health Worker training east of the Cascades.

The students, who range from recent college graduates to older adults, spent 120 hours over 10 weeks learning how to navigate the health care system.

“I’ve got a 92 year old mom who is blind, and trying to navigate services for her is really challenging,” said Gretchen Pippitt, Community Health Worker graduate. “It seemed like a good opportunity to help people figure things out and get connected with resources that are out there.”

The 20 newly certified Community Health Workers are now registered with the Oregon Health Authority.

That means the health departments, medical clinics and social service agencies that hire them can be reimbursed by Medicaid for services the community health workers provide.

Such funding allows health agencies to reach deeper into communities and help more people

“I am working on a cancer assessment,” said Cindy Vargas, who is already working for the Crook County Health Department. “I also help clients check in and schedule appointments whether that’s for vaccines or family planning.”

Professor Baron says the newly graduated and certified community health workers will play important roles in COVID pandemic relief efforts.

“They can help with contact tracing, they can help with outreach, vaccination outreach, talking to people about the vaccine, also connecting them to resources,” she said. “Beyond the pandemic, it’s been a really hard time for people to connect with mental health services or primary care doctors. It’s a whole big picture.”


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