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Members of the Florida Community Health Worker Coalition, the Florida Legislature and the Florida Certification Board came together at events in Tallahassee, Miami and Casselberry, Fl., on Tuesday, Jan. 27, to celebrate the state’s first credentialed Community Health Workers. 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.” 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; Mia Rosario, Southeast American Indian Council, Tallahassee; Tonya Bell, Healthy Start of Jefferson, Madison and Taylor counties, Greenville and Sornia Joseph, Jessie Trice Community Health Center, Inc., Miami. 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 http://www.flcertificationboard.org/ Applicants who apply on or after Jan. 1, 2016, will be required to take an exam.