Health care delivery in the Circumpolar North is challenged by a scarcity of culturally relevant ... Read more
Health care delivery in the Circumpolar North is challenged by a scarcity of culturally relevant health care services, few medical providers trained in cross-cultural care, and high costs of transportation. Community health workers (CHWs) are primarily Indigenous individuals who provide on-the-ground health care and health promotion services in their own communities.The CHWs’ scope of work varies from health education to clinical care and often focuses on upstream factors that impact the public’s health. Although often overlooked and underutilized, the CHW role is an innovative approach to promoting more sustainable and culturally relevant care within health systems. Investigating and understanding the potential ways that CHW-integrated health care systems support health and wellness could allow for a clearer understanding of how to translate this approach to other regions seeking a transition to sustainability in health and wellness. Drawing on experiences with CHWs in the Circumpolar North, this article introduces a conceptual model summarizing pathways that describe how integrating CHWs supports wellness in their communities. The proposed model includes five pathways for how CHWs could support wellness: (1) the recruitment of CHWs from within a community promotes community capacity and control; (2) the CHW role allows them to advocate to address structural and systemic inequalities that contribute to ill health, if CHWs are supported to organize their communities around wellness; (3) CHWs have the potential to support and empower community members; (4) CHWs have the potential to develop culturally relevant, feasible, and effective health promotion strategies; and (5) CHWs have the potential to build on community strengths. This model allows for CHW-integrated health care systems to be critically examined to both test and refine this proposed model, and support and empower community health workers as a transition to a more sustainable health care delivery system that reduces inequities and promotes health.