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City of Austin expanding community health worker program to connect underserved communities with COVID-19 vaccine

The City of Austin only has a few community health workers right now and is adding 17 more to connect people in underserved communities with health resources.

AUSTIN, Texas — With vaccines for kids and more booster shots expected to be rolled out in the coming weeks, the City of Austin is adding more community health workers.

A community health worker is someone who goes into underserved communities to have conversations with people and connect them with health resources. The City only has a few of those workers now, but through local and federal funding, they are hiring 17 more.

At Thursday’s Austin City Council meeting, the city is initiating an agreement with the University of Texas at Houston Health Sciences Center. The health experts there will help the City of Austin plan how to best train, deploy and engage these community health workers in its COVID-19 response.

Council Member Vanessa Fuentes is behind this push.

“This issue is personal for me,” Fuentes said. “I represent a community that has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the city, that bears the burden of disproportionate health outcomes. And so knowing that this type of policy change is needed, in order to not only help my community get through to the other side of the pandemic, but to address longstanding health inequities.”

She said these workers are not only needed for COVID-19 reasons, but they will also be important in addressing other health issues in communities where many people don’t have easy access to health care and are uninsured.

“I'm hoping that this type of investment in community health workforce will continue because we need it,” said Fuentes. “We need individuals who are from the community, know the community they work in, and they're able to be that liaison between the community and the resources that we offer at Austin Public Health and with Central Health. And so really, these individuals, it's a critical piece of our public health infrastructure and outreach.”

Over $1 million is being used to expand the community health worker program.

If you are interested in becoming a community health worker, there will be a job fair this Saturday at 10 a.m. at the Montopolis Recreation and Community Center.

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