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Early Lessons from the Baltimore Health Corps Pilot

Mayor Brandon M. Scott, Baltimore City Health Department, Mayor’s Office of Employment Development, The Rockefeller Foundation Announce Findings of Baltimore Health Corps Pilot Early Lessons Report

Baltimore, Md. – Today, Mayor Brandon M. Scott, the Baltimore City Health Department, the Mayor’s Office of Employment Development, The Rockefeller Foundation, HealthCare Access Maryland, Jhpiego, Baltimore Corps, the Baltimore Civic Fund, and other partners announced the findings of the Baltimore Health Corps Pilot’s Early Lessons Report, completed by the University of Maryland, College Park School of Public Health.

“The Baltimore Health Corps has been a blessing to our community since the onset of the pandemic,” said Mayor Brandon M. Scott. “As we continue to navigate this public health crisis, I remain encouraged by our partnership with the BHC and the funders who play a role in Baltimore’s recovery.”

The Baltimore Health Corps (BHC) launched in June, 2020, as a way to recruit, train, and employ 275 new community health workers (CHWs) who were unemployed, furloughed, or underemployed, living in neighborhoods hardest hit by COVID-19. Implementation of the pilot included key partnerships among the Baltimore City Health Department, the Baltimore Civic Fund, Baltimore Corps, HealthCare Access Maryland, Jhpiego, the Mayor’s Office of Employment Development, and the Mayor’s Office of Performance & Innovation.

“It is satisfying to see that the Baltimore Health Corps team reached our goal of hiring those displaced by the pandemic in a racially equitable way, while increasing the city’s capacity to respond to the health crisis,” The Rockefeller Foundation Senior Vice President, U.S. Equity and Opportunity Initiative Otis Rolley III said. “But our work isn’t finished. We need to continue to prioritize racial equity in our response to COVID-19, as well as demonstrate flexibility as the pandemic evolves.”

The Early Lessons Report, prepared by the new Health Systems and Policy Research Lab at the University of Maryland, College Park School of Public Health, followed the progress of the BHC pilot across three key objectives.

Objective 1: Create jobs with racially equitable hiring and career development possibilities. The pilot sought to hire hundreds of CHW jobs in contact tracing, care coordination, and program operation, providing sustainable employment and economic stability pathways for those hired. The report found that BHC reached its target of 275 hires as of January 31, 2021. Of the new employees, more than 85 percent were previously unemployed, furloughed, or underemployed, and about 70 percent lived in Baltimore City, and at least 65 percent are BIPOC. Workforce supports – including career navigation, behavioral health support, and legal services – are available for all staff hired.

Objective 2: Increase capacity for COVID-19 contact tracing. Onboarding new BHC contact tracers began in August, 2020. By the time the program reached full staffing in January:

  • The rate of positive cases completing interviews rose from 67 percent to 73 percent,
  • The number of contacts who were contacted within 24 hours increased from 67 percent to 80 percent, and
  • The number of contacts who completed interviews grew from 50 percent to 78 percent.

BHC tracers were able to shift from a call center model to a case management model by mid-December, allowing for more relationship building and continuity. Additionally, the early lesson report noted the importance of including Spanish-speaking BHC members who could better serve Baltimore’s LatinX community.

Objective 3: Provide Essential Care Coordination. As the BHC pilot staffed up, the program worked to improve referral coordination in the contact tracing process, while also redeploying resources to testing sites, flu clinics, and housing complexes. After these adjustments in November, 2020, care coordination increased by 126 percent in referral volume. The most common requests were: access to food (33 percent), commodities/supplies (14 percent), quarantine support (13 percent), help with utilities (11 percent), and housing (8 percent).

“The Baltimore Health Corps pilot allowed us to rapidly scale our capacity for contact tracing and care coordination efforts,” Health Commissioner Dr. Letitia Dzirasa said. “Our Health Corps team has played a critical role in the Health Department’s response to the pandemic, and the partnerships involved have helped build the City’s network of trained community health workers for post-pandemic careers in public health.”

“MOED is committed to bringing economic justice to Baltimore City residents and to doing its part to help the city recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. We are proud to be part of this important collaborative effort with the Health Department and our other Health Corps partners,” Mayor’s Office of Employment Development Director Jason Perkins-Cohen said. “Our work from the last year and this report show that it’s possible to hire equitably and inclusively, in a way that addresses both workforce and public health needs. The Health Corps can serve as a model for cross-cutting, dual-purpose programs elsewhere in the city and across the nation.”

The report also included a series of specific recommendations for the ongoing management of the BHC pilot, as well as broad recommendations for similar efforts elsewhere across the country. These recommendations included leveraging funding available for community health workers to address COVID-19 in the American Rescue Plan Act and centralized information technology to support community health work in Baltimore City; supporting open communication and collaboration among public and private partners; and preparing the workforce by removing barriers to job access and supporting training and skills programs.

“This pilot demonstrates how we can put public health into action to improve people’s lives. I am hopeful that other cities and counties will follow the lead of the Baltimore Health Corps to create good jobs, improve equity, and address the pandemic,” said Dr. Boris D. Lushniak, dean of the University of Maryland School of Public Health and former Acting Surgeon General during the Ebola pandemic. “I am proud that our School of Public Health could play a role in evaluating the BHC pilot and look forward to this work informing future efforts throughout the country.”

While most positions have been filled, BCHD and HCAM continue to hire for community health worker and supervisor roles, particularly for Spanish-speaking roles. Those interested in applying or sharing the roles with their networks should visit https://www.baltimorecorps.org/baltimore-health-corps to learn more!

“HealthCare Access Maryland is honored to continue to support the Baltimore Health Corps initiative. The last year we have been able to onboard 43 community health workers to address multifaceted needs of Baltimore City residents experiencing the impact of Covid-19 pandemic,” HealthCare Access Maryland CEO Traci Kodeck said. “HCAM has been able to pivot during this time from being in the community at COVID-19 testing sites/flu clinics to vaccine mobile outreach efforts. We continue to look forward to ensuring that we can support needs related to food access, health insurance coverage, self-isolation and education related to other social needs that impact health disparities.”

“It was extremely important that people most impacted by COVID were centered in Baltimore’s response to the emergency,” President and CEO of Baltimore Corps Fagan Harris said. “With Baltimore Corps’ background and deep experience in equitable hiring and as a key partner on this initiative, we are proud that this evaluation demonstrates the success of Baltimore Health Corps to elevate local talent, and a commitment to racial equity, in activating these critical public health roles.” 

“The report underscores Jhpiego’s and partners’ critical understanding that Baltimore Health Corps workers need to be of and from the community to connect with Baltimoreans and help prevent the spread of the coronavirus. We are proud to have helped build an equitable contact tracing corps that represents the people it serves,” President and CEO of Jhpiego Dr. Leslie Mancuso said.

“With the Baltimore Health Corps, we came together to address the pressing needs of the COVID-19 pandemic in a way that enhanced equity, community, and economic opportunity for Baltimoreans,” Baltimore Civic Fund President HyeSook Chung said. “The Baltimore Civic Fund is proud to have supported an effort that both provided an urgent service and laid the foundation for future collaborative health and economic justice initiatives.”

The link to the Early Lessons Report can be found here.

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