Indian Health Service announces national expansion of the Community Health Aide Program

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Program provides education and training of tribal community health providers

News Release

Indian Health Service

The Indian Health Service is announcing the national expansion of the Community Health Aide Program. The program provides education and training of tribal community health providers to increase access to quality health care, health promotion and disease prevention services.

As an expansion of the Alaska Community Health Aide Program, the national Community Health Aide Program will be consistent with the Alaska model and will foster innovative service delivery for the Indian Health Service by augmenting the existing workforce with mid-level paraprofessionals, utilizing culturally competent providers, and providing workforce development opportunities for locally developed staff.

“Expanding the Community Health Aide Program reflects the Indian Health Service’s commitment to building on effective programs and listening to tribal consultation,” said Department of Health and Human Services Deputy Secretary Eric Hargan. “Under President Trump, the Department of Health and Human Services has made it a priority to tackle health disparities and address social risk factors that may affect health. Secretary Azar and I have heard firsthand how community health aides have helped improve health in Alaska Native communities, and we look forward to seeing the results of expanding this program to the lower 48.”

“Through this expansion to create a national Community Health Aide Program, the Indian Health Service aims to provide culturally appropriate health care services through recruiting, developing, and retaining a dedicated, competent, and caring workforce,” said Indian Health Service Director Rear Adm. Michael D. Weahkee. “The Community Health Aide Program model increases access to care by bringing health care closer to our patients. Traditionally, patients are brought to a health care facility, and the Community Health Aide Program illustrates that health care can be delivered to the patient in their environment.”

The Indian Health Service initiated tribal consultation in 2016 to seek input on the potential expansion to create a national Community Health Aide Program. In February 2018, the Indian Health Service convened a Community Health Aide Program Tribal Advisory Group to ensure that the questions and concerns from tribes, tribal organizations and urban Indian organizations across the country were being adequately represented. To better understand the needs of American Indian and Alaska Native communities prior to Community Health Aide Program expansion, the Indian Health Service participated in numerous listening sessions, focus groups, and planning meetings.

Leveraging innovative workforce models that prioritize direct health care, Community Health Aide Program is vital to rural and remote communities across Indian Country as the need for access to care in primary, dental, and behavioral health increases. Federal law requires all health aides to be certified by the Indian Health Service to provide services under a Community Health Aide Program. As implementation proceeds, the Community Health Aide Program must be sufficiently flexible to allow the Indian Health Service and tribes to tailor resources to the specific local, mental, physical, and cultural needs of the community and operate within site specific limitations in technology, resources, and facilities.

The Indian Health Service is taking a phased implementation approach, starting with tribal consultation on $5 million in funding from Fiscal Year 2020 to support key components. These include establishing certification boards at the Indian Health Service Area and national levels to begin certifying providers in the lower 48, increasing community education on the role of Community Health Aide Program across Indian Country, investing into training within tribal communities, and providing additional support to tribally-operated programs.

The Alaska Community Health Aide Program was established in 1968 to provide a broad range of primary care services to residents of remote areas that would otherwise not have access to consistent medical care. Today in Alaska, more than 50,000 patients in remote villages throughout the state are treated by village-based health aides.

The policy may be accessed through the Indian Health Manual under Circular 20-06. For more background on the Community Health Aide Program expansion, visit https://www.ihs.gov/chap/.

The Indian Health Service, an agency in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, provides a comprehensive health service delivery system for approximately 2.6 million American Indians and Alaska Natives who belong to 574 federally recognized tribes in 37 states. Follow the agency via social media on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

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