COVID-19 front lines need community health workers, yet they’re not getting needed support

Originally published May 4, 2021

As a community health worker and executive director of the National Association of Community Health Workers, I’ve spent the past year gathering insights about the mental and emotional challenges for the people on the front lines of pandemic response in neighborhoods across America.

I know well the anxiety and guilt they feel trying to comfort and support families who’ve struggled through loss after loss in isolation and uncertainty.

Yet, on top of pandemic-induced pressures, recent events form a grim reminder of other, enduring American crises that our community responders face: a string of mass shootings and the catastrophic consequences of racism.

The horror of the March 16 Atlanta mass shooting of eight individuals, six of whom were from Asian communities, floored me. After the news broke, I called Theanvy Kuoch, a Cambodian CHW who has been a mentor, elder and friend for 10 years. Long before she had the title of community health worker, Theanvy channeled her lived experience as a survivor of enslavement, hunger, disease and loss from the 1970s Cambodian holocaust to support people living in her refugee camp.