As a community health worker, 46-year-old Christina Scott is a professional red-tape cutter, hand-holder, shoulder to cry on, and personal safety net, all wrapped into one.
She works in an office in the shadow of the steel mill that employed her grandfather in this shrinking city in the Greater St. Louis area. Gone with many of the steel jobs is some of the area’s stability — almost a fifth of Granite City’s residents live in poverty, far higher than the national average.
Then another destabilizer — COVID-19 — hit. And so Scott stepped in: She knows how to access rental assistance for those out of work as they isolate at home with COVID. She can bring people cleaning supplies or food from a local food bank. She’ll stay on the phone with clients, helping them budget their finances to keep the lights on. And the calls keep coming because people know she understands.
“I’ve been hungry. I’ve not had a car,” Scott said. “I’ve been through those things.”
Scott is one of the over 650 community health workers the Illinois Department of Public Health hired through local, community-based organizations starting last March. This Pandemic Health Navigator Program workforce was made possible by a nearly $55 million grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention through the federal pandemic relief passed by Congress. The team has completed at least 45,000 assistance requests, which were referred to them through contact tracing of COVID cases.
As the workers have gained the community’s trust, Scott said, new requests have poured in from people who have heard about the catch-all program, which does more than what many people may think of as public health work.