Community health worker experiences with people who use drugs: a phenomenological study

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University of New Brunswick


People who use drugs (PWUD) are a marginalized population at risk of developing often treatable and preventable health conditions; however, they avoid traditional health care systems and providers. Community Health Workers (CHWs) make up an unrecognized grass roots workforce that demonstrates a unique ability to engage the often homeless, urban population of PWUD. Collaboration between CHW and Community Health Nurses (CHNs) presents a valuable partnership opportunity. This study seeks to increase our understanding of the lived experiences of CHWs working with PWUD. To this end, the Giorgi (1970) Descriptive Phenomenological Psychological Method (DPPM) was applied for both the collection and analysis of qualitative audio-recorded interview data from four CHWs who work with PWUDs and are employed by non-profit organizations in Saint John – New Brunswick. The descriptions are viewed through the disciplinary lens of Vollman, Anderson & McFarlane’s (2004) Community-As-Partner Theoretical Model (physical environments, education, safety and transportation, politics and government, health and social services, communication, economics and recreation). The findings include general structural descriptions (GSD) that are considered the essences or meaning of the experiences and include “a safe space”, “do more with less” and “educate us to educate them.” The findings have the potential to inform nurses and other health care providers with greater understanding and insight in relation to CHWs and how best to support and facilitate their work with PWUD as a highly complex and vulnerable population in the community.