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Arnold School of Public Health


Arnold School awarded grant from BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina Foundation to establish Community Health Worker Institute

March 11, 2019 | Erin Bluvas, bluvase@sc.edu

The Arnold School of Public Health Community Health Worker Institute launched this month to improve health in communities throughout the state and region. With funding from the BlueCross® BlueShield® of South Carolina Foundation, the Institute will provide training and support for community health workers and the healthcare and community organizations that employ and interact with these professionals.

“South Carolina and most southeastern states are facing a critical shortage of health-educated workers who are willing and able to enter our medically underserved and often rural communities to assist patients with proper adherence to medically prescribed care. Community health workers teach individuals and families about the importance of proper nutrition, physical activity, children’s vaccinations and the many things they can do to prevent chronic diseases like diabetes, hypertension and heart disease,” says Thomas Chandler, dean of the Arnold School. “Community health workers often become the most impactful ambassadors for ‘wellness’ in underserved communities. I am so excited that Julie Smithwick and her partners received this generous support from the Foundation.”

Community health workers often become the most impactful ambassadors for ‘wellness’ in underserved communities.

-Thomas Chandler, Dean of the Arnold School

Smithwick founded PASOs back in 2005 during her field placement as a master of social work student at UofSC. A needs assessment conducted by the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control had revealed that while the Latino population has great strengths, they have limited access and information about health resources, which can lead to health disparities.

Partnering with Palmetto Health, Smithwick used a March of Dimes grant to create the Arnold School-based community organization, which helps Latino families and health and social service providers work together for healthier, stronger families. They specialize in connecting Latino families with critical education and resources and have grown to include 25 employees, 50 volunteer community health workers, 250 organizational partners, and a $1 million budget. They serve more than 8,000 individuals across 25 counties through community programs, capacity building to improve access to culturally competent services, and training. 

This model involves supporting leaders from within communities to serve as community health workers who are partnered with health and social service organizations, but who are more importantly rooted and vetted within the community itself.

-Julie Smithwick, CHW Institute Director

“What is great about PASOs is that the same values that led to the organization’s early success in 2005, and its expansion in 2008, are the values that still drive our work today—things like believing in the communities’ strengths, authentic engagement with individuals and families, and the importance of building and safeguarding community trust,” says Smithwick, who transitioned from executive director of PASOs to lead the new Arnold School of Public Health Community Health Worker Institute on March 1. “Community leadership development has been a core focus of PASOs’ work since the beginning, and so many strong leaders have emerged throughout the years. There are many more capable community leaders today than we had back in 2005, which is why it is time for me to step aside and provide space for others to lead.”

PASOs director of programs Maria Martin and director of capacity building Mike Young are currently serving as co-interim directors while the organization’s board of advisors works with Arnold School leadership to identify a new executive director. And while Smithwick’s primary focus will shift to the new Institute, the overlapping goals and services of the two organizations will ensure a close collaboration.

The Arnold School Community Health Worker Institute will provide entry-level training and field placement experience to community health workers and training for community health worker supervisors, along with continuing education options and specialty tracks targeting specific health issues or population focuses. The Institute will also partner with the South Carolina Community Health Worker Association to recruit new community health workers and work with hospitals, health clinics, health departments and other organizations to develop and implement effective community health practices.

Partnering with the Arnold School’s Core for Advanced Research and Evaluation, the Institute will assess the integration of community health workers into various healthcare systems, and the effectiveness of using the community health worker model in South Carolina to address the needs of disadvantaged populations, including economic return on investment. In addition, the Institute will work with current and potential payors to develop new payment models to sustain community health worker services in the state.

“This model involves supporting leaders from within communities to serve as community health workers who are partnered with health and social service organizations, but who are more importantly rooted and vetted within the community itself,” says Smithwick. “Community health workers work within their communities to connect individuals and families with resources, identify barriers, and provide solutions and ideas to improve the health and well-being of the entire community.”