Confidante. Helper. Friend. Trusted Resource.

These are all descriptors for Jordan Bergmann, a community health worker (CHW) who helps bridge the gap for individuals in need of community services or health care programs in Bismarck, North Dakota.

“In order to connect with people in our community, we must have people in our community to connect with. We are so fortunate to have Jordan on our team,” shared Wendy Schmidt, MBA, BAN, RN, senior learning and development specialist at Sanford Health.

A Community Health Worker (CHW) is a frontline public health worker who is a trusted member of and/or has an unusually close understanding of the community served.

This trusting relationship enables the worker to serve as a liaison between health/social services and the community to facilitate access to services and improve the quality and cultural competence of service delivery.

In addition to her role at Sanford Health, Schmidt serves as a lay leader for the Better Choices, Better Health program in North Dakota and recognized a need for providing support to individuals with chronic health conditions. Thanks to a grant issued to Sanford Health by the Administration for Community Living (ACL), CHW positions have been added in Bismarck, Fargo, and Hillsboro. Three diverse communities with unique challenges.The grant is focused on three priority populations: individuals with a chronic condition, aged 65+ and those individuals at risk of/or experiencing homelessness. The program is relatively new and grantees are working to quantify value to support legislation to be eligible for reimbursement.

Wendy Schmidt

“We are looking for the role of the CHW to fit the community rather than the community fit the role of the CHW,” Schmidt added. “We are seeking feedback and are flexible in our approaches to ensure we are meeting the needs of those we serve as well as the unique needs of each community.” 

Schmidt believes the services of a CHW will impact unnecessary emergency room visits, walk-in clinic visits and improved overall health of recipients.

As a CHW, Bergmann understands the value of community connections, and since October 2020 she has volunteered for other community support agencies, who are often the source of her referrals. “I believe the value of community health work lies in my relationship to my community and my capacity to build trusting relationships and connections between the healthcare system and the communities that need it most.”

The timing could not be more perfect. The COVID-19 pandemic presented a host of new challenges for accessing services and care in addition to the impacts of social isolation. CHWs are able to offer services in the comfort and safety of an individuals’ home, which also provides insight to identify and resolve barriers. For example, an individual may have a language barrier, childcare or caregiver demands, poor vision or lack the ability to read.

Jordan BergmannBeing viewed as a trusted resource and a friend, Bergmann often gets a more honest look into situations and needs. “Most of the work I do requires a lot of listening and observing. Being able to understand my patients’ most pressing and basic needs, and being someone they can trust, allows me to help them help themselves.”

Bergmann explained, “All the medicine and treatment in the world won’t do much if they have to choose between paying for needed medication or paying for food, or making it to a doctor’s appointment while having to leave their children at home alone. That is where community health work steps in, to figure out what those barriers to healthcare are and try to alleviate them as much as possible. So the treatment and care from their primary care providers and doctors is as beneficial as possible.”

When asked where the greatest value comes, Schmidt offered this example for an individual diagnosed with diabetes. “As a healthcare provider, we have access to their AIC levels and labs. When establishing a course of action, we might recommend more fruits and vegetables. However, the individual may not have access to food outside of the local food pantry. Healthy foods might not be in the home, nor an option. Jordan can identify this gap and help with a proper diet and assistance to access quality nutrition. We believe this knowledge can lead to a better understanding of the individual as a whole and can lead to better health outcomes.”

Bergmann concluded, “The best part is helping people with what they need rather than just passing along resources; we are trying to jump in and be part of the community.”

Community Health Worker Collaborative of South DakotaCHWSD Logo (CHWSD) is working to promote, support, and sustain the CHW profession in South Dakota. In collaboration with the South Dakota Department of Health, they developed the Community Health Worker Planning and Assessment Toolkit to provide organizations and health systems with resources to hire and integrate CHWs into their teams.

The toolkit is free to use and can be accessed in either a self-paced format or as a continuing education course. CEUs are available for medical providers, nurses, social workers, counselors, addiction and prevention professionals, pharmacists, and dentists, dental hygienists and dental assistants.