Addressing the Health and Wellness Needs of Vulnerable Rockaway Residents in the Wake of Hurricane Sandy: Findings From a Health Coaching and Community Health Worker Program

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Abstract

Objectives:

To describe the design and participants of a program that employed health coaches and community health workers to address the social, health, and long-term disaster recovery needs of Rockaway residents roughly 2 years after Hurricane Sandy made landfall.

Design:

Baseline and exit questionnaires, containing demographic, health, and health care utilization measures, were administered to participants at the start and end of the program. Enrollment and encounter information was captured in program administrative records. Descriptive statistics were used to summarize participant characteristics, personal goals, referrals to local organizations and agencies, and outcomes. Qualitative analyses were used to identify recurring themes in challenges faced by participants and barriers to health and wellness.

Results:

The program served 732 community residents, of whom 455 (62%) completed baseline and exit questionnaires. Participants were directly and/or indirectly impacted by Hurricane Sandy through property damage, closures of health care facilities, limited employment opportunities, and trouble securing affordable housing. Furthermore, many participants faced considerable adversities and struggled to manage chronic health conditions. Personal goals set by participants included locating health care and other resources (44%), weight management and healthy eating (35%), and self-management of chronic conditions (24%). Health coaches and community health workers engaged participants an average of 4 times—providing counseling and referrals to local organizations and services, including medical and dental services (29%), city-issued identification cards (27%), and health insurance and other entitlements (23%). Comparisons of baseline and exit surveys indicated significant improvements in self-reported health, health care utilization, and confidence managing health issues. No significant improvement was observed in the use of preventive health care services.

Conclusions:

The program represents a model for engaging vulnerable populations and addressing social and economic barriers to health and wellness during the long-term disaster recovery phase. Health coaches and community health workers may be instrumental in helping to address the health and wellness needs of vulnerable residents living in disaster-affected areas.

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