Community Health Workers to Fight Health Disparities in Asian Pacific Islander Communities

SAN JOSE – Yesterday, the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to approve a contract with Asian Americans for Community Involvement (AACI) to build a team of community health workers dedicated to addressing the significant healthcare access barriers that Asian and Pacific Islander (API) communities in our County face. This new Community Health Worker program, initially proposed by County Supervisor Joe Simitian, will connect members of these communities to essential clinical and behavioral health care and community services tailored to meet their unique health needs.

While the program is especially timely given the current pandemic, Simitian said it, “represents the product of years of work. If we have learned anything from this current crisis, however, it is how important it is to connect vulnerable folks in our community with essential healthcare services in a way that works for them. It doesn’t do any good to offer services if they aren’t really accessible.”

Given the devastating, and disparate, impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the program will initially focus on three API subgroups most affected by COVID-19, the Vietnamese, Filipino and South Asian communities. Services will ultimately expand to all seven API subgroups identified by the 2017 API Health Assessment (initiated by Simitian). These include Chinese; Japanese; Korean; and Pacific Islander communities.

As members of the API community themselves, community health workers can connect clients to resources and programs provided by the County that are culturally appropriate, such as physicians who speak the preferred language of the patient, or exercise and nutrition classes taught specifically by or for certain API subgroups. As the pandemic continues, they will also share important information about COVID-19 testing, vaccination and relief assistance.

“The implementation of the API Community Health Worker program during the pandemic is particularly important to encourage COVID testing and vaccinations, and provide resources to the API community,” said Sarita Kohli, President and CEO of AACI, which will lead the program.

“Disaggregated race and ethnicity data from the County COVID dashboard has highlighted the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on specific API groups, particularly the Vietnamese, Filipino and Indian communities,” Kohli added. “Individuals and families struggling with health, housing and economic challenges brought on by the pandemic naturally turn to trusted individuals in their communities for support and resources. Community health workers are those trusted individuals who will provide targeted outreach and support.”

“Healthcare is more than just making sure people get better when they are sick,” said Simitian, Chair of Santa Clara County’s Health and Hospital Committee. “It’s also about prevention, making sure people don’t get sick in the first place. This new effort should make this possible for many more residents, residents who might otherwise be isolated during times of need.”

The need for targeted outreach to the API community was highlighted in 2016 when, at the request of Supervisor Simitian, the County’s Public Health Department undertook an API Health Assessment. The data from that assessment and the focus groups that followed provided insight into the diverse health needs of different API communities. More importantly, it identified specific disparities and barriers to accessing healthcare for each subgroup.

“With the recent rise in violence against our Asian American and Pacific Islander residents, on top of a global pandemic and long-standing healthcare disparities, this program is all the more essential,” said Simitian. “Making sure these communities can quickly access the healthcare they need, in an environment they feel comfortable in, is essential for making our neighbors feel cared for during this difficult time, and for improving health outcomes for the whole community.”

To stay informed about the progress of this program, visit and sign up for the District Five newsletter. Updates on the program will also be reported monthly at the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors’ Health and Hospital Committee meetings.



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