“If You Don’t Have the Heart to Help, You Cannot Do This Job”: The Multidimensional Wellbeing of Community Health Workers Serving Refugees During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Roseanne C. Schuster, Karin Wachter, Kenna McRae, Anne McDaniel, Olga I. Davis, Jeanne Nizigiyimana, Crista E. Johnson-Agbakwu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Community health workers are members of two groups whose short- and long-term health has been uniquely shaped by the COVID-19 pandemic: health workers and the oft-marginalized populations that they serve. Yet, their wellbeing, particularly of those serving resettled refugees, before and during the pandemic has been largely overlooked. Drawing from a holistic conceptualization of wellness, this study examined the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on a group of cultural health navigators (CHNs), who serve resettled refugees. We conducted semi-structured individual interviews with CHNs at a southwestern U.S. hospital system between July and August 2020, a critical time in the pandemic. Our analysis produced four themes that encapsulate the effects of the pandemic on CHN wellbeing: (1) “You fear for your life”: Chronic risk of COVID-19 exposure takes a toll on physical, emotional, and environmental wellbeing; (2) “It is stressful because it is completely new”: Uncertainty diminishes occupational, financial, and emotional wellbeing; (3) “If you don’t have the heart to help, you cannot do this job”: CHNs remain committed while facing challenges to their occupational wellbeing on multiple fronts; and (4) “Now, you cannot release your stress”: Loss of and shifts in outlets integral to social and spiritual wellbeing. The findings deepen empirical understanding of how the pandemic affected the holistic wellbeing of CHNs, as they continued to serve their communities in a time of crisis. We discuss the implications for addressing the multidimensionality of community health worker wellbeing in research, policy, and practice.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)183-194
Number of pages12
JournalQualitative Health Research
Volume34
Issue number3
DOIs
StatePublished - Feb 2024

Keywords

  • community health
  • cultural health navigator
  • occupational wellbeing
  • pandemic
  • refugee

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health

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