The Healing Power of Social Connection

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Community Health Worker

Georgina Díaz, Community Health Worker from the community of Reforma

In the remote Sierra Madre mountains of Chiapas, Mexico, there are few roles more important than that of the community health worker (CHW). Locally known as Acompañantes, CHWs are a fundamental component of Partners In Health’s integrated health care model and act as a link between the clinic and the community.

In Chiapas, Partners In Health’s sister organization Compañeros en Salud (CES) conducts health screening through active case finding in communities. They help people who are isolated or marginalized get diagnosed with chronic diseases like diabetes and hypertension early so that they can get the care they need at a time when the treatment can still help them enjoy health for a long time. These CHWs serve not only as the front line in a comprehensive primary health care team, providing support to people living with chronic conditions, but also play a vital role in fostering social ties between individuals in the community.

With social connectedness increasingly recognized as a determinant of both mental and physical health, PIH Canada – in partnership with the Samuel Family Foundation – is collaborating with CES to explore and document the role of CHWs in facilitating these important social linkages.

“I got excited about this collaboration because I’ve seen the power of CHW-led accompaniment first-hand in the Sierra Madre,” said Dr. Dan Palazuelos, co-founder and Chief Strategist of CES, and Senior Health and Policy Advisor for Community Health Systems at Partners In Health. “When I learned more about the concept of social connectedness from the Samuel Family Foundation, I instantly recognized it … so much of the power of accompaniment is in how people connect, support one another, and help each other overcome obstacles or traumas.”

The project consists of three main components. First, it will support CES’s community health program in identifying people at risk of health complications and connecting them to care. Second, it will document the power of CHWs to promote human connection by using CHW-generated photo essays and community video interviews to gain insight into provider and patient perceptions of the impact of CHWs.

Community Health Worker

Eudeli Velasquez, a Community Health Worker from the community of Reforma

Finally, this summer CES will be hosting a cross-site PIH dialogue by bringing together CHWs from Haiti, Mexico, Navajo Nation, and Peru. The conversations between CHWs from different sites will help PIH gain a better understanding of how PIH’s integrated care model fosters social connectedness, and will identify best practices that may be applied and solidified across all Partners In Health locations.

Over the next weeks and months, CES staff will be working with acompañantes to document their experiences in the communities they serve. They will also record stories and reflections of patients and other community members. It promises to provide a rich account of the importance and impact of social connection in facilitating wellness.

“Our experience over the last four years is that so much of the healing and support goes on in the community,” Dr. Palazuelos said. “We hope to share the voices of people who participate in and benefit from PIH’s community health efforts. We’ve always known social connectedness was important to health, but we didn’t always have a vocabulary for how to describe it. This collaboration with the Samuel Family Foundation is a beautiful opportunity to learn and grow together.”

Every person, no matter who they are or where they’re from, deserves the best health care we know how to offer.

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