Community Health Workforce: Supporting our Lāhui from Within


Based on the premise that personal relationships and patient engagement are critical to improving access to healthcare, Papa Ola Lōkahi has been identifying, training and deploying community leaders to provide information, share resources and help navigate the healthcare system for patients and their families. Building a sturdy community health workforce has been a most effective strategy during the COVID-19 pandemic in Hawaiʻi.

In June 2021, the number of COVID-19 infections among Native Hawaiians surpassed that of Pacific Islanders, Filipinos, and all other races throughout Hawaiʻi. In addition, the CDC reported that “Pacific Islander persons, who account for 5% of Hawaii’s population, represented 22% of COVID-19 cases and deaths.”

The disheartening rise of COVID-19 cases within both communities is the foundation upon which the community health workforce initiative is built.

Photo: Ke Koʻokoʻo community health workers (CHWs) from Kula No Nā Poʻe Hawaiʻi
Ke Koʻokoʻo community health workers (CHWs) from Kula No Nā Poʻe Hawaiʻi provide numerous programs and social services at Papakōlea Community Center and Park for the residents of Papakōlea Hawaiian Homestead. – Photo: Courtesy

Ke Koʻokoʻo means “cane, staff, rod, something you can lean on, a means of livelihood.” The objective of this initiative is to prepare, train and deploy a network of koʻokoʻo, trusted partners and community health workers (CHWs), that their respective communities can lean on to disseminate vaccination information and provide individual outreach to combat COVID-19.

In collaboration with Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander serving partner organizations – Kula No Nā Poʻe Hawaiʻi, Kaʻū Rural Health Community Association, and the Hawai’i/Pacific Basin Area Health Education Center – Papa Ola Lōkahi is focusing on serving rural and urban communities on Oʻahu and Hawaiʻi islands.

Over the course of the last three months, since receiving this boost from the Health Resources and Services Administration specifically for enhancing CHW programs, the Ke Koʻokoʻo initiative completed eight vaccination clinics, more than 10 COVID-19 test clinics and self-test kit distributions, and three flu shot clinics.

Additionally, the program sponsored the highly successful Morehouse School of Medicine CHW training program for new CHW recruits, dispersed informational mailers, translated survey tools into Marshallese, and created easy-to-understand curricula designed to introduce telehealth to kūpuna. Future initiatives will support communities in providing education about, and improved access to, vaccinations for our 5-to-11-year-old keiki.

Education provided through Ke Koʻokoʻo aims to help individuals and families make informed decisions about their health and wellbeing that will positively impact future generations. Papa Ola Lōkahi is grateful for such rich partnerships around our collective goal to create thriving, healthy Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander communities.