Foundation Awards Grants to Train Frontline Workers Needed to Expand Community Health Center Capacity

New York, NY – To help meet the increased demand for health care from millions more soon-to-be insured, older, and chronically ill Americans, the RCHN Community Health Foundation (RCHN CHF) has awarded $2 million in grants to train and retain frontline early career community health center workers. These employees, who include medical assistants, receptionists, care managers, and health system navigators, are typically a patient’s first and primary connection to their health care provider and essential to a health center’s operations.

“Our ability to meet a greater demand for health care falls squarely on our system’s ability to increase capacity,” said Julio Bellber, President and CEO of RCHN CHF. “That means we must prepare our nation’s 1,200 community health centers to recruit, train, and retain workers who can meet increased patient care needs.”

Located in underserved areas, federally qualified community health centers are both a key provider of comprehensive primary health care services and an important source of employment in their local communities. Yet, health centers face challenges recruiting and retaining skilled workers due to limited labor pools, lack of relevant vocational training, and language and cultural barriers. Despite these challenges, our nation relied on community health centers (CHCs) to provide care to more than 22 million people in 2012 – a number that grew by 2 million last year and is expected to increase even more dramatically as the Affordable Care Act takes full effect in 2014.

“Not only will we have millions more insured Americans next year, health centers will also serve increasing numbers of older people and patients who require more care,” said Thomas van Coverden, President and CEO of the National Association of Community Health Centers. “It is essential that we grow the number of skilled, frontline health care workers to fulfill the promise of access to quality care.”

As the only national foundation dedicated solely to supporting community health centers, RCHN CHF developed the Health Center Entry-Level Workforce Recruitment and Retention Initiative to help CHCs meet the challenges of growing a skilled workforce. The Foundation awarded $1 million in grants in 2012 to five community health centers, with a second million in 2013 to a new group of centers. They are:

  • CareSouth Carolina, Hartsville, South Carolina – $199,308
  • El Rio Community Health Center, Tucson, Arizona – $198,467
  • Finger Lakes Community Health, Penn Yan, New York – $200,000
  • OneWorld Community Health Centers , Omaha, Nebraska – $189,343
  • Salud Family Health Centers, Fort Lupton, Colorado – $200,000

The health center project summaries follow:

CareSouth Carolina, Hartsville, South Carolina
Serving 37,000 patients at 10 sites
Operating in 5 rural counties, CareSouth Carolina is working to increase the number of potential community health workers and certified medical assistants in partnership with Northeastern Technical College. With a focus on chronic care, and building on the success of the Learning from Effective Ambulatory Practices (LEAP) program supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, CareSouth is planning to expand the a “patient-centered team” model of care. CareSouth will also implement a certified Community Health Worker curriculum in partnership with Northeastern Technical College.

El Rio Community Health Center, Tucson, Arizona
Serving 76,000 patients at 17 sites
El Rio Community Health Center is partnering with Pima Community College to develop a training program for new and current entry-level employees to prepare them for successful careers in community health. With a focus on veterans and at-risk unemployed individuals, El Rio will provide internships, mentoring, and skills development to position these individuals for future employment and increase the pipeline of skilled health care workers. El Rio also plans to support ongoing education for entry-level community health center employees by offering health information technology (HIT) certification, Medical Assistant training, and community health advisor certification.

Finger Lakes Community Health, Penn Yan, New York

Serving 17,000 patients at 8 sites
As a community health center system that provides care to thousands of migrant farmworkers in upstate New York, Finger Lakes Community Health has partnered with the National Center for Farmworker Health, the Health Care Network of New York, and two other CHCs to improve the cultural competency of health care staff who work with migrant and seasonal farm workers, immigrants, and the homeless. Finger Lakes plans to improve the skills and retention of “point-of-entry” workers such as receptionists, registration specialists, and community health and outreach workers, and will design and implement an initiative to address gaps in training for frontline workers who engage vulnerable patients.

OneWorld Community Health Centers, Omaha, Nebraska

Serving 23,000 patients at 8 sites
OneWorld plans to create a learning academy for entry-level workers focused on the diverse immigrant community served by the center. The center will work to retain current employees through a professional development “learning academy” utilizing both e-learning and mentoring opportunities. A leadership and mentoring component will provide staff with opportunities for skills development and career advancement. The Center will also work in collaboration with the University of Nebraska to evaluate and adapt the program to ensure its success.

Salud Family Health Centers, Fort Lupton, Colorado
Serving 73,000 patients at 9 sites
Salud Family Health Centers has developed the Medical Staff College Project (MSC) to create a curriculum to train entry-level medical staff in the unique needs of community health centers. In partnership with the Colorado Community Health Network, the Tri-County Health Department, and the Adams County Workforce Center, the curricula will be developed to meet state requirements for a Professional Occupational School. The MSC Project will also partner with area high schools and workforce centers to showcase Salud as a place of employment opportunity and affordable vocational training. This project will provide a health care career path for young people in the region and develop competent staff trained to meet the specific needs of those served by the health center.

The RCHN Community Health Foundation is a not-for-profit operating foundation established to support community health centers through strategic investment, outreach, education, and cutting-edge health policy research. The only foundation in the U.S. dedicated solely to community health centers, RCHN CHF builds on a long-standing commitment to providing accessible, high-quality, community-based healthcare services for underserved and medically vulnerable populations. For more information, visit