Leticia Boughton Price and Wandy D. Hernandez-Gordon are Community Health Workers (CHWs) and activists with lived experience who have helped develop the role of CHWS in Illinois and nationally.
They lead the Illinois Community Health Workers Association(ILCHWA), the only organization that represents CHWs statewide in Illinois. ILCHWA has over five hundred members, mostly Black and Latina women.
The importance of CHWs emerged during the Covid pandemic. The Biden administration allocated a $250 million investment in CHWs in the American Rescue Plan Act. Wandy and Leticia are optimistic about CHWs finally getting statewide recognition but also worried. From years of experience, they know that there is a risk that experts will want to transform the CHW workforce without real input from those closest to the work; the CHWs themselves.
In 2020, Leticia and Wandy successfully advocated that language putting CHWs at the table be included in the Illinois Health Care and Human Service Act, a 224 page bill which was written to end inequities in the Illinois Health Care System. Then the bill stalled in the State Legislature. They asked for guidance from Rakove and Strassberger on how to advocate to ensure that their vision- one which included CHWs as part of the decision-making process around the transformation of the CHW workforce- stay in the bill as the details were worked out.
There is magic in how Leticia and Wandy bring their vision, energy, and joy to everything they do. They are skilled advocates, tenacious in divining opportunities to reach their goals and in building connections to people who can help them achieve success. Their belief in nurturing honest and respectful relationships is core to their work as Community Health Workers and as advocates.
At the point when we met them, they were also frustrated and facing resistance to the idea of including the voice of the CHW, through ILCHWA, in a meaningful way to help develop the new structure.
Leticia and Wandy are crystal clear in their vision of “nothing about us without us.” This goal comes first, before other concerns such as training and certification, reimbursement, work conditions, and career ladders. They feel that employers of CHWs, public health experts, funders, state administrators, and community college administrators respect them for their skills as CHWS and CHW trainers. But at the time of our first meetings, this had not translated into respect for their ideas about definitions of CHWs and their roles, rate setting methodology, work conditions, certification, and training.
To show Wandy and Leticia their unique power, built on accomplishments and important political relationships, and then how to use that power.
To interpret the inside world of Springfield so that they understood how to influence the rewrite of the bill, including working with the Departments which were overseeing its implementation.
To help them seize the narrative- both verbal and written- about next steps in building the CHW workforce in Illinois.
Impact at 10 Months
Rakove and Strassberger worked with Wandy and Leticia to help them build on the excellent relationships they had already formed with the chief sponsors of the Act, a State Senator and a State Representative. After the bill was signed, work began to clarify language in a follow-up trailer bill, as is
often the situation with complicated legislation. When the Illinois Department of Public Health proposed troublesome amendments, Rakove and Strassberger worked with Wandy and Leticia to successfully develop a legislative solution and strategy, one which was built on ILCHWA’s relationships with the chief sponsors. ILCHWA at the decision-making table stayed at the bill.
ILCHWA’s growing political success brought them to the attention of the foundation world. Rakove and Strassberger collaborated with them to develop their approach to philanthropy which led to a significant under taking interest. ILCHWA has received one major grant from this funder as well as his help in approaching other foundations. Foundations have asked them to submit proposals.
We also assisted ILCHWA with planning for the next phase of their organization as additional resources and influence are expanding the scope of their work. It is glorious to watch ILCHWA take the lead to make sure that the lived experience, the insight, the voice of CHWs is part of the decision-making in the growth and transformation of this workforce critical
to improving health outcomes for all Illinois residents. We look forward to consulting with Leticia, Wandy, and all ILCHWA in the work ahead as the State of Illinois moves into implementation.