Program Description and Mission
Established in 2001, CHA's Volunteer Health Advisor (VHA) Program is operated by the Department of Community Health Improvement (CHI). The VHA Program works to improve community health by working collaboratively with faith-based and community-based organizations to recruit, train and support a sustainable volunteer workforce that provides culturally and linguistically appropriate health education and outreach to under-served and hard-to-reach populations.
The VHA Program is a volunteer-driven, multicultural education and outreach program dedicated to improving the health of underserved communities.
VHAs are trained by public health and medical professionals on health topics and screenings that are relevant to the communities Cambridge Health Alliance (CHA) serves. Once trained, VHAs provide basic health education and screenings in disease prevention and wellness, lead health education forums and screening events, and educate community members about the availability of free and low cost health care coverage.
VHA Roles and Responsibilities
The VHAs act as a bridge between the community and CHA and are front line public health workers who have a close understanding of the community they serve. This trusting relationship enables them to serve as a link between health/social services and the community to facilitate access to services and improve the quality and cultural competence of service delivery. VHAs help reduce, and in some cases eliminate, the persistent disparities in health care and health outcomes in under-served communities.
Some of the volunteer responsibilities include:
- Delivering basic health education in disease prevention and wellness using culturally appropriate terms and concepts;
- Providing health education presentations to community underserved community members;
- Raising community awareness about the availability of free and low-cost health care coverage; and
- Assisting community members in accessing health care.
CHA’s diverse team of VHAs come from over on dozen countries and collectively speak 14 different languages, including Spanish, Portuguese, Haitian Creole, Arabic , Mandarin, Amharic, and English,
In order to make the VHA program successful and meaningful to both our volunteers and the community, a certain level of engagement is required in order to remain in the program. Every six months, VHAs must:
- Complete at least two training sessions;
- Dedicate at least 30 hours to the program through events or other service opportunities.
VHA Training and Support
Prospective VHAs attend health education trainings facilitated by CHA outreach and clinical staff in a culturally and linguistically appropriate format. The curriculum includes workshops and training sessions on topics such as:
- Basic health screening (blood pressure, cholesterol, blood glucose, and weights and heights)
- Cancer awareness and prevention
- Nutrition and physical activity
- Health issues such as cardiovascular disease, hypertension, and diabetes
- Health access and outreach
- Access to primary care and health insurance
The VHA Program Staff is comprised of a diverse group of motivated individuals with experience in community-based outreach and health education.
Event Coordinators support each of the CHA primary languages. Each Coordinator is bilingual and bi-cultural.
CHA currently has four Event Coordinators with each focusing on a different language group or specialty area: Haitian-speaking, Portuguese-speaking, Spanish-speaking, and Breast Health. The Coordinators work with the VHA Program Coordinator to provide communication and support to VHAs.
Success Stories and Awards
Since its inception, the VHA Program has trained over 500 VHAs who live and work in Cambridge, Somerville, Everett, Malden and surrounding communities. Collectively these VHAs speak over a dozen different languages. In 2014, Program staff and volunteers organized or participated in nearly 100 events in the community, collaborating with more than two dozen community-based organizations and churches.
The VHA Program has received numerous awards, including the prestigious National Association of Public Hospitals' Community and Patient-Service Award in 2004, a 2005 Nova Award, a top honor from the American Public Health Association, and the National Minority Quality Forum's Booker T. Washington Award for Wellness in Minority Health in 2008.
Request VHA Support for Your Event
Most screening and educational services are available at low or no cost to non-profit organizations that reach diverse and medically-at-risk adult populations residing in the CHA service area (Cambridge, Somerville, Medford, Malden, Revere, and Everett). If you are interested in VHA Program participation in a health education or community event, please complete the VHA Event Request Form and email it to the VHA Event Coordinator firstname.lastname@example.org at least 3 weeks prior to the planned event.