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We can save money and lives with community health workers

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If you have ever faced a serious health threat or have a chronic condition, you know that treatment and the road to recovery can be complicated. Taking prescriptions at designated times, remembering which require food and which do not, meal planning with specific nutritional goals, monitoring blood sugar levels and other medical vitals – the steps are critical but confusing. If you are elderly, living with mental health challenges, or relying on public transportation to get to the grocery store, pharmacy or doctor’s office, it is even more daunting.

Rep. Heather Carter (R-Cave Creek)

Rep. Heather Carter (R-Cave Creek)

Thanks to community health workers, staying on track with your treatment plan doesn’t have to be so hard. So what is a community health worker? They serve with a proven, on-the-ground approach that has worked around the world in both rural and urban settings. They help patients take care of themselves, removing the guesswork and providing informed, caring advice specific to each individual.

Arizona’s health care system is shifting from a utilization-based payment model to a system that is quality-based and focused on preventive care and disease management. This is better for the patient and reduces use of more expensive services, like visits to the hospital emergency room. This is why Arizona’s community health workers are vital, not only to patients who rely on their guidance but to the overall health care system that sees reduced costs and increased patient wellness because of their efforts.

The factors that make community health workers effective also make HB2324 essential: patient care is confusing. An individual must know the medical details, nutritional and lifestyle facts, and available resources, but they must also earn the trust of the patient who needs to follow their advice. HB2324 creates a clear and voluntary method to help a community health worker reach that goal.

A recent article in Politico highlighted the importance of trained community health workers, describing them as “a bridge between doctor and patient.” They are a connection between the doctor and patients’ daily lives, linking clinical advice to the implementation of steps that extend lifespans and reduce time spent in hospital beds. They are experts who can literally wrap their arms around a patient while they offer coordinated support that helps not only that individual but the society and institutions that are paying for the individual’s care.

Arizona has some significant health care challenges. We face shortages in doctors and nurses, and growing costs for treatment of preventable health problems. HB2324 is a big solution to those challenges. It expands the medical expertise we provide and helps ensure patients have access to a highly reliable health care workforce. It helps us add a professional, personal touch to patients’ most trying times, and it helps us make Arizona healthier.

I urge my colleagues to join me as we advance this bill to achieve a stronger, better educated, better trained, community-based medical workforce and improve lives across the state.

— Rep. Heather Carter, R-Cave Creek, is chairwoman of the House Health Committee.

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The views expressed in guest commentaries are those of the author and are not the views of the Arizona Capitol Times.

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