3-4 Minute Read
With a couple of notable exceptions, the 2019 CFHA conference in Denver was, as my 8 year old would say, epic. The creative plenary sessions were impressive; a surprise opportunity to co-facilitate the women’s health task force discussion group with Helen Coons left me star-struck; Stacy Ogbeide’s session on treating PTSD in primary care was inspirational and the incredible psychiatry quartet of Mark Williams, Tom Salter, Lori Raney and Patty Gibson gifted the audience with an entire applicable toolbox. I also found opportunities to shake hands with Neftali Serrano and rub shoulders with all those incredible poster presenters. Phew.
But. I looked everywhere and could not find evidence that a single community health worker, peer support specialist, recovery mentor, doula or other paraprofessional had joined us for the conference.
I would certainly have loved to attend a session or two led by someone in this role; I would have settled for a jostled hello at the breakfast line as I subtly grabbed extra mini pastries for my morning snack. What a loss for us as an integrated care community that we have not yet created a space that is accessible for these team members at our annual gathering!
This past year my clinic obtained funding to hire a peer recovery mentor who also serves as a home visiting postpartum doula for patients after they deliver their babies. Her presence, experience and wisdom have expanded our team’s reach to include patients who were either hesitant to engage in the interventions and support that I provide as a BHC or who needed much more hands-on assistance than my schedule and skill set typically allow. We are just 6 months into her work with us and I don’t know how we did it without her.
What a loss for us as an integrated care community that we have not yet created a space that is accessible for paraprofessionals at our annual gathering!
I have an idea as to why paraprofessionals have not joined our ranks. Frankly, as a masters-level clinician, I have only been able to attend the conference supported by grant funding because my continuing education allowance is not large enough to allow for the cost of travel, hotel and conference fees.
Beyond this, I notice that individuals without a doctoral or medical degree seem to hold a much smaller megaphone as contributors to CFHA overall. It seems obvious that these issues would magnify to the point of exclusion for a paraprofessional.
However, just as much or maybe more than the highly degreed and credentialed among us, these team members have something to learn as well as something to contribute to this growing national conversation that we call behavioral health integration. How can we maintain and grow the momentum we are currently experiencing while inviting in these powerful and needed voices?
Those without a doctoral or medical degree seem to hold a much smaller megaphone as contributors to CFHA
It seems like a starting point for inclusion needs to be outreach and funding. I think I remember hearing that there were 900 attendees at this year’s conference. A $25 add-on fee for each conference participant to fund scholarships for paraprofessional attendance could be a great start. Pair this with outreach to organizations that send participants to CFHA every year to encourage support for their paraprofessionals to attend and we may actually see some results!
These efforts could be rounded out by an organizational commitment to diversify the credentials of conference presenters and potentially some technical assistance offered to those with less experience giving presentations. We are a group of systems change makers—we can do this!
If the field of integrated care is to grow and develop stronger ties with our communities, then we need to include our paraprofessional colleagues. There is a growing base of evidence that the inclusion of community health workers leads to improved access to care services, increased health screening, and enhancing community between community members and clinicians, among other outcomes.
Our care teams need the skills and relationships that paraprofessionals are so good at using.
I came home from Denver with a nasty upper respiratory virus and a million energizing ideas to share. If you were there too, I hope you missed the virus but not the energy. Can’t wait to see you in Philadelphia next year—hopefully with an ever-diversifying chorus of voices telling our stories!