Public Health New Mexico
3:59 pm
Tue March 11, 2014

Governor Signs Community Health Workers Act

"National studies have documented the effective use of highly trained community health workers, particularly in rural and frontier areas." —Community Health Worker Act Fiscal Impact Report
Credit Ken Lund via Flickr

Community health workers can be paid through Medicaid after a measure signed by Gov. Susana Martinez on Sunday, March 9, goes into effect. As things stand, workers’ salaries are primarily funded by grants.

The legislation also creates a state certification program and funding for trainings.

Bette Jo Ciesielski called the act historic and says it’s the culmination of decades of work. She is the director of the New Mexico Community Health Worker Association, which she helped form in 1995. The group began working on developing a certification process immediately.

“People are not really familiar with the community health worker model. They don’t really know what they do,” she said. “Their efforts are not highly recognized, especially by people in the healthcare community.”

With certification and basic standards established, health workers will be more credible, Ciesielski added.

There have been efforts at a national level to certify community health workers—also called “promotoras”—and some states have made the attempt to create certification programs, too. For the most part, Ciesielski said, those efforts have failed.

The training is voluntary, and the measure's Fiscal Impact Report promises that nothing in the act will prevent people who don’t seek certification from continuing their work. Folks active in the field were part of developing standards, Ciesielski said, and classes will be held around the state, so they’ll be accessible.

Community health workers provide vital, sometimes lifesaving services and information in the state. “It is a field that has existed in third world countries where there were no doctors, where there was very little access to health care services,” she said. “In New Mexico we have those conditions in many of the rural areas throughout the state. “

The Department of Health will set up a web page where trainings and locations will be listed. In the meantime, Ciesielski added, people can contact the association for more information.