Miami CTSI

First Certified Community Health Workers in Florida Recognized


From left: Brendaly Rodriguez and Community Health Workers Maria Azqueta, Orieta Fontan, Lourdes Exume, Linabel Lopez and Valentine Cesar.

The Miami CTSI’s Project Manager for the Community Engagement & Cultural Diversity Program, Brendaly Rodriguez, who is also co-chair of the Florida Community Health Worker Coalition along with the Florida Legislature, and the Florida Certification Board celebrated the state’s first credentialed Community Health Workers in events across the state of Florida on January 27.

The new credential brings workforce development and accountability to a profession expected to grow by 25 percent by 2022.

A Community Health Worker (CHW) is a frontline health worker who is a trusted member of and/or has an unusually close understanding of the community served. This trusting relationship enables the CHW to serve as a liaison, link, and intermediary between health/social services and the community to facilitate access to services and improve the quality and cultural competence of service delivery.

“We are thrilled to bring this certification to the Community Health Worker profession in our state, joining a national trend,” said Brendaly Rodríguez, Co-Chair of the coalition. “A big push in support of CHWs occurred in January 2010 with SOC 21-1094 – in which the Department of Labor provided a code as a Federal Job Classification. In doing so, Community Health Workers are recognized as a profession as they are an integral part in connecting Floridians in underserved and at-risk populations to health care providers and services. They do so in culturally and linguistically competent ways, speaking a cultural language that individuals and families can relate to.”

Watch A Video Report
Jump to the 2:18 mark to watch the news story about the CHW certification.

Patria Alguila, Co-Chair of the coalition, echoed Rodríguez’s comments and further defined the populations CHWs serve, “This includes people living in rural communities where they don’t have health care providers and minority communities where cultural and language differences can be a real barrier to accessing care.”

In addition to improving access to care, CHWs are a solution to address health disparities, such as a shortage in health care providers. The Florida Center for Nursing projects there will be a shortage of more than 50,000 Registered Nurses in the state by 2025.

“Developing a new certification takes a lot of work by a lot of people, and it has been a pleasure to work with such a dedicated team that is very passionate about their profession and the communities they serve,” said Neal McGarry, CEO of the Florida Certification Board. “Not only does it give recognition to the professionals, but also it is a win for employers and a win for communities. One may be confident in knowing that the certified individual has demonstrated competence and must continue to do so through ongoing training required to maintain that certification.”

The professionals who became the first certified Community Health Workers in Florida today are:

  • Lolita Dash-Pitts, Front Porch Community Development Association, Inc., St. Petersburg, Fla.
  • Mia Rosario, Southeast American Indian Council, Tallahassee, Fla.
  • Tonya Bell, Healthy Start of Jefferson, Madison and Taylor counties, Greenville, Fla.
  • Sornia Joseph, Jessie Trice Community Health Center, Inc., Miami, Fla.

To be eligible for the CHW certification, Dash-Pitts, Rosario, Bell, Joseph and anyone else who applies this year must meet the following criteria:

  • Document at least 500 hours of paid or volunteer experience of providing CHW services in the past five years
  • Document at least 30 hours of training in the core competencies in the past five years
  • Submit two letters of reference validating the CHW’s experience and training
  • Complete and submit an application with the applicable fee to the Florida Certification Board

Applicants who apply on or after Jan. 1, 2016, will be required to take an exam. Here’s what Florida leaders had to say about the new certification…

“As Florida’s diverse population grows, it is important that we think outside of the box to help Floridians gain access to health care,” said State Rep. Victor Torres, Jr. (D-Orlando). “Integrating Community Health Workers into our health care system is an important part of addressing the growing needs of our residents and providing a mechanism to credential these professionals will bring value added to the state of our health care system.”

“I would like to extend my sincere congratulations to the Florida Community Health Worker Coalition and applaud its efforts and dedication to promoting the Community Health Worker profession in Florida,” said State Sen. René García (R-Hialeah). “This new certification brings added workforce development and accountability to members of our public health and social services and also the health care industry.”

“There are so many people like my aunt who are Community Health Workers who are known to individuals in various locales and neighborhoods who are doing the work, but who are not recognized as the professionals that they are and not compensated as other health care professionals are, and I feel that they should be,” said State Sen. Geraldine Thompson (D-Orlando).

“This is a defining moment for the Community Health Workers in Florida,” said Sornia Joseph, a CHW at Jessie Trice Community Health Center, Inc. in Miami. “It is the first major accomplishment in our pursuit for recognition, authentication and distinctiveness. As professionals, our time is now.”

“The Jessie Trice Community Health Center, Inc. is proud of the work that our Community Health Workers have done in the communities we serve,” said Annie Neasman, President and CEO of Jessie Trice Community Health Center, Inc. “There has been 47 years of work done by these individuals in promoting health, helping individuals deal with health disparities, finding medical homes and connecting individuals to needed services in the community. We are proud that one of our own workers, Sornia Joseph, is amongst the first in the state to receive certification. This brings another level of credibility to these deserving workers.”

“The CHW certification is an example of how a tireless vision and true dedication of a concerted group effort of passionate individuals can make an impact in healthy outcomes of Florida’s disenfranchised populations,” said Maisha Standifer, former coordinator of Community Engagement and Outreach with the University of South Florida – Moffitt Center for Equal Health. “Lolita Dash-Pitts has been a committed community advocate and health liaison for social health justice and opportunity throughout Tampa Bay while serving as a Community Health Worker with the Center for Equal Health. Her steadfast journey to educate individuals in her community about healthy living and cancer prevention did not stop at educational forums, but also she applied for grants to expand resources in her community. The works of Mrs. Dash-Pitts is an exemplary model of an effective CHW for all of Florida and the entire nation to marvel.”

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