The Power of Community Outreach: Laura Eirich’s Zufall Health AmeriCorps Story
Laura Eirich, MPH, oversees the Office of Community Health Workers at the Kentucky Department for Public Health (KDPH). Community health workers (CHWs) — nonclinical health care professionals who provide health education, resources, and connection to health services — are a critical part of the U.S. public health system, bridging gaps between health care providers and underserved communities.
Eirich, who earned a dual bachelor’s degree in public health and psychology from Carroll University before completing her master’s in public health (MPH) from Rutgers, has long been passionate about helping people live better, healthier lives. She began her undergraduate studies as a nursing major, but quickly realized she’d prefer to work outside of a clinical setting. When she learned about public health, particularly the idea of preventing disease through education and community engagement, Eirich knew she had found the right path.
However, Eirich says it was her volunteer service with Zufall Health AmeriCorps in 2014-2015 – in between undergrad and graduate school – that most significantly shaped her career. At Zufall, she was primarily responsible for conducting community outreach to local residents, a duty that aligns closely with the community health worker function she administers today.
Eirich’s service with Zufall began just a few months after we opened our Somerville office, meaning that active outreach efforts in the region were especially vital. Eirich engaged with hundreds of nearby vulnerable individuals, visiting food pantries, homeless shelters, and other community spaces to raise awareness about the essential medical services Zufall had recently introduced to the area.
“Community outreach meets people where they are, how they are, making and it an effective tool to grow health care access,” Eirich says. “The approach reaches people typically excluded from traditional systems of care and establishes trust.”
In listening to people’s stories and needs, Eirich recognized that their health concerns often intersected with broader social challenges, like food insecurity, difficulty paying for utilities, and legal issues. So, she collaborated with Zufall colleagues and community organizations across the county to link individuals to nonclinical services. And because her service also converged with the 2014 expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act in New Jersey, Eirich also prioritized helping people enroll in health insurance.
Eirich says she thrived in community outreach because she liked seeing people progress through the care continuum. She saw, for example, the journey of someone getting access to primary care for the first time in years, to then getting health insurance, to specialty care for a chronic condition.
“It was really rewarding to see the value of my relationships in the community from start to finish,” she remembers.
After completing her MPH and relocating to Kentucky, Eirich was thrilled to learn that the KDPH was hiring an administrator to support community health workers across the state. Eirich saw the role as an opportunity to apply her firsthand experience in community outreach on a larger scale. Now employed with the KDPH for six years, Eirich’s office has grown to a team of five people responsible for training, certifying, and demonstrating the impact of the CHW profession in Kentucky.
Eirich’s progression from grassroots outreach to her current position at the state level highlights the enduring impact of her AmeriCorps experiences. Consequently, she encourages recent public health graduates interested in a similar career trajectory to consider Zufall’s service program.
“You’ll see how the pieces fit together in the public health system, all while getting to serve your community on a deeper level.”