Hearing Partnership™ models a sustainable way to integrate the “community health worker” (CHW) function in hearing health care practices. The inspiration for this idea comes from our co-founders life experience as patients with hearing loss and our health care professional experience. Our co-founder Mr. Bergeron was also co-founder of the demonstration project for Massachusetts health care reform in 1997, Fishing Partnership Health Plan, and for the next 15 years he managed the project’s CHWs.
CHWs in the original demonstration of healthcare reform did much more than assist patients with paperwork to apply for health coverage. They identified with patients as members of their community and provided socially meaningful support to measurably improve community health. The Massachusetts demonstration for health care reform did not rely on any mandates to require anyone buy health insurance. Yet the uninsured in the target population dropped from 43% to 13% soon after the project was launched and this rate continued to drop in following years (http://www.hcfo.org/grants/fishing-partnership-health-plan-model-reducing-numbers-working-uninsured). The quality of the health coverage provided and the social identification the project’s CHWs had with patients as members of their community were decisive factors to make the project a real success. Unfortunately, this community health opportunity was not scaled up when reform was expanded.
Hearing Partnership™ models a sustainable example integrating a CHW public health function in specialty health care practice without the need for government subsidies to support it. In this sense the Hearing Partnership™ project pilots a practical and uncontroversial approach to advance the promise of health care reform that was so provocatively demonstrated in Massachusetts at the very earliest stages.