Michelle Rupp: Hello and welcome into this week’s edition of AFMC TV. We’re glad you’re joining us today joining me now is Dr. Kristy Bondurant. And Kristy you are our staff epidemiologist here at AFMC and so of course we’ve had you on before but I’m real curious, I’m excited about this topic. Because we are talking about the renewed emphasis on public health. There’s always been, you know, public health. This isn’t anything new, but it seems like a spotlight maybe was really shone on it as a result of the pandemic.

Dr. Kristy Bondurant: Absolutely. And like you said, it’s been around for a while. In Arkansas our board of Health was established around the late 1800s, early 1900s and it was focused on an infectious disease initiative at the time. And so much like what you just experienced with the pandemic. And so that emphasis, you know, it doesn’t just focus on infectious disease though. We have a lot of different public health programs in the state whether those are, you know, food and water safety. If you know, if we’re looking at oral health, maternal and child health and even just surveillance. I know we talked a lot about data during the pandemic and we have a great data science team here who also, you know, a lot of the programs that we work on. They focus on public programs, on health programs and looking at whether those are effective if the people, the population that is intended to serve is served and how that service has gone. And so, we do that through evaluation and surveys on a regular basis. So, it’s something that AFMC is used to. We did a lot of work during the pandemic through contact tracing case investigation, vaccines, and testing. But we also, you know, have a long history as well as a company of working on public health programs. I like that public health just as a whole to someone who is not medical encompasses so many things as you were mentioning, it’s not just infectious disease, it’s things we might not think about, such as maybe food insecurities.

MR: Okay. So, I know here locally we’ve heard the term community health worker and that may be a term that that some who are watching might be familiar with or may not be. So, can we start first by defining what is a community health worker? What’s that focus?

KB: Yeah, so a community health worker, is that frontline public health worker. They’re engaged and embedded in their community and the community that they serve. They are also a trusted member of the community. And so, they serve as a link or liaison between health and the community members. They’re there to educate, they’re there to link individuals to health services. They really are a critical piece of several different types of public health programs.

MR: So, in general they are that link.

KB: Exactly, exactly.

MR: And we’ve got community health workers all across the state of Arkansas.

KB: We do, they work on various programs. Many of them serve the types of programs that I mentioned earlier. You know, the ones that we’re working with directly, they’re working on a vaccine hesitancy program trying to reduce vaccine hesitancy in the state. There are a very engaging group, very enthusiastic. We’ve serviced several different counties through the program that we’re working with. We’re partnering with UAMS this project and um their main focus and the work that they’re specifically doing is to engage their community and encourage them to go to vaccine clinics. And we’re providing those vaccine clinics as well.

MR: Are community health workers, medical individuals?

KB: No, actually they’re laypeople. And that’s one thing that I think is kind of confusing about the name. You might think that they need to be um you know, have a background in biology or health care itself, but that’s something that we can educate them on. And we have a lot of our community health workers that were working with right now served in our pandemic response efforts. But we retrain them to help them with the tools they need to be able to engage their community to communicate and educate for these vaccine efforts that we’re doing and they’re doing an excellent job. It’s really great to see their enthusiasm and that’s one thing that is um that we’re looking for, we’re looking for people that have a network that are willing to use that network to educate who are passionate about the programs that they serve. It’s not just you’ve got to have a degree in biology and then get you out the door.

MR: So, you don’t have to be an RN or an APN or retired or anything like that. Just having that passion and wanting to be able to serve is really the qualities that are needed. Have there always been community health workers?

KB: Yeah, in a way they have, they go by a lot of different names and I think that’s why maybe if you haven’t heard of community health worker before, it’s because maybe you haven’t heard that name for that specific, but they’ve also been called community navigators, they are community liaisons, health coaches, public health aids, care connectors and they can be a part of lots of different entities. Lots of different companies, or programs. So, they can be, you know, obviously through the public health system, but they can be a part of a clinic or a hospital, engaging and connecting that hospital or that clinic to their community that they serve. They can be a part of nonprofits as well as other state agencies, so they really can be a part of a lot of different programs.

MR: And they serve as such a need to, that we’re that we’re really seeing now I think more than ever. Can anyone utilize the service of a community health worker if they don’t know where to turn to or where to go?

KB: Yeah, they absolutely can because one of the big roles that a community health worker has is to connect people with services. So, anyone that, you know, has a food insecurity like you mentioned before or a housing needs. Our community health workers, not only those that work for AFMC, but throughout the state, they have those connections and those links to programs in their community. Services in their community that can help support those individuals. So yes, anybody is able to use a community health worker.

MR: It’s a great resource. It’s, it’s great to know that they’re out there Kristy. Is there anything else that you would like to add?

KB: I think we covered quite a bit today. I do want to say that our teams were so incredibly proud of what they’re doing right now. We’ve gone through the pandemic with them. They are working in their communities. They are very engaged and supporting and just doing incredible, amazing work out in the communities they serve. So, you know, outside of that, just thrilled that they’re here and working with us.

MR: We’ve all been through a lot together and there’s a special bond with some of those who have weathered that storm with us for sure. For sure.  Dr. Bondurant, thank you so much for coming in.

KB: Thank you, Michelle.