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Economy

The New Front Line of Public Health

Community health workers take a 360-degree view of the barriers that stand between their patients and better health—and their numbers are growing.
Jennifer Pascal (left), a community health worker, makes a house visit to Mary Smith in Boston in 2013.
Jennifer Pascal (left), a community health worker, makes a house visit to Mary Smith in Boston in 2013.Brian Snyder/Reuters

When Stephanie Brown, a community health worker (CHW) affiliated with a large health care system in Baltimore, sat across from her new client, she thought she’d be teaching the elderly woman to prepare a checklist of questions for her doctor.

Instead, the woman nervously admitted that her biggest concern was a waterline break in her house. She and her husband had no money to fix it, so they’d spent weeks wading through standing water. Even worse, they had no clean drinking water.