The Oregon Community Health Worker Association (ORCHWA) was founded in November, 2011. Oregon has been a national leader in development of the Community Health Worker (CHW) model and in CHW organizing. With the advent of health care reform, there has been increased interest and recognition of the value that CHWs and other lay health workers such as Peer Support Specialists (PSS), Personal Health Navigator (PHN), Peer Wellness Specialist (PWS), and doulas can provide when working in both clinical and community setting. As policies and standards began to be discussed regarding these “non-traditional health workers,” longtime CHW leaders and allies did not see meaningful participation of CHWs themselves in these conversations and policy-setting processes.
Responding to this, in 2011 the Oregon Latino Health Coalition and the Community Capacitation Center at the Multnomah County Health Department supported the creation of the Oregon Community Health Worker Association (ORCHWA) so that community health workers across Oregon would have the ability to advocate for the best interests of their emergent profession. ORCHWA formalized past networks and provides a unified voice to empower and advocate for CHWs in Oregon.
In 2012, we held 3 statewide meetings across the state, elected a steering committee, formalized a membership structure, decision-making, and governance structures. There are currently 3 sub-committees that engage our members across the state in building and sustaining our organization, policy agenda, and engaging and supporting our members. Recognizing the shoulders we stand on, we have learned a great deal from the APHA CHW Section and many of the other statewide CHW Associations, particularly MACHWA – Massachusetts CHW Association.
In October 2014, ORCHWA partnered with Oregon Public Health Institute (OPHI). OPHI has been incredibly supportive as the new fiscal sponsor and shares office space with ORCHWA. On May 28, 2015 OPHI and ORCHWA celebrated with an open house party!