Society for Medical Anthropology
Volunteered - Oral Presentation Session
Community health workers (CHWs) serve as a vital connection between their clients and social and medical services. As CHWs come from the communities they work within, understanding their motivations, morals, and values in relation to sociodemographic factors is crucial in realizing the foundation of what makes these workers such a valuable ally in addressing health disparities. This paper explores the moral economy of care of CHWs operating in the United States – specifically in Indiana, a state with some of the poorest health outcomes in the nation. For CHWs in this state, the core of their relationship with their clients is empowerment – particularly aiding clients in achieving self-sufficiency to attain control over their physical, mental, and social wellbeing. In this moral economy of care, these workers “exchange empowerment,” which was seen as a sign of a success within the CHW-client relationship. Additionally, in contrast with public health studies that have demonstrated the rather limited (or, sometimes negative) effect of race concordance between physician and patient, the relationship between CHW and client was positively augmented by shared gender, race, ethnicity, language, and/or culture. As these workers continue to be integrated within the professional workforce, understanding the constellation of factors that impact their moral economy of care is essential.