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Community health workers are needed to improve health outcomes in poor neighborhoods

I was dismayed to read recently that state regulators have rejected a plan to create 1,000 hospital-based jobs in Baltimore City neighborhoods suffering from disproportionate rates of poverty and unemployment ("Funding in jeopardy for 1,000 new jobs proposed by hospitals after the unrest," Nov. 18).

Based on my experience as a primary care physician, these jobs would provide opportunities to many capable citizens of Baltimore and improve the health of our communities, of individual employees and their families.

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Every day I see patients and parents of patients who need jobs more than any medication I can prescribe or advice I can give. Unemployed patients are constantly forced to choose between necessities like food and shelter and their medications

The proposed jobs would tangibly improve my patients' health through wages that permit them to care for their families now as well as take advantage of opportunities for upward mobility and increased earnings in the future.

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The proposed jobs would also improve the overall health of underserved communities. A portion of the 1,000 new jobs would be for community health workers. Strategic employment of community residents to care for their neighbors has been extensively studied and employed in underserved communities in the U.S. and other countries, with positive results.

Baltimore-area hospitals and clinics have already implemented limited community health worker initiatives. Community health workers have improved the lives of my patients through individualized support, such as accompanying them to medical appointments and translating the medical plans of care into concrete actions to improve their lives. Implemented universally in Baltimore City, such community health worker initiatives would meaningfully improve the health of underserved communities.

We must begin building one Baltimore. The life expectancy of citizens in Greenmount East, the community where I work, is 66 years of age, compared to 84 years of age in Roland Park. I see the Health Job Opportunity Program as a step in the right direction to address this and other disparities. For the health of the patients I serve and our communities I urge state regulators to find a way support the Health Job Opportunity Program.

Dr. Katie Shaw, Baltimore

The writer is a primary care physician who works in East Baltimore.

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