December 1, 2022
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New Photo Exhibit on Manhattanville Campus Shows the Experience of Community Health Workers During the Pandemic | Columbia

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“Our main question since the fall has been: How do communities of color relate to the medical system? And, of course, there’s a lot to talk about,” Capotescu said. “There’s a sense that trust in the medical system, in science, in state institutions, and in democracy is in crisis. Through various forums and conversations at the community level, we’ve partnered with Bronx Community Health Network, a provider in the Bronx, and other community partners.”

What is a Community Health Worker?

Capotescu: They are a group of people that work between the medical profession and patient communities. They facilitate and negotiate the transfer of knowledge and relationships between hospitals, doctors, nurses, and the patients that use those services.

They’re also involved in many more community-based services like transportation, provision of food, food stamps, access to technology, access to government services. They have a variety of tasks on their plate and they equip communities with knowledge about them.

They are like trusted messengers. There’s a big push from the Biden administration to increase confidence in vaccines and the medical system, so we need those trusted messengers.

Tomson: We so often think of information and health care as institutions or places you go to receive services. I think the interesting thing we’ve observed about CHWs is that they are offering continuity of care, not just within the medical system, but within other systems of welfare and well-being, whether that is food stamps or trash pickup or neighborhood nutrition. All sorts of things about health care we don’t think about because it isn’t in a hospital. It’s not just a place you go, it’s a person you’ve known for years or have a continuous relationship face-to-face and in-person.

What is the focus of the exhibit?

Capotescu: This exhibit is all about CHWs and their stories. It tries to capture stories through their eyes about what their work entails and what it is like to work at the intersection of these institutions, communities, and spheres of society.

We’ll have Opening Night on June 14 and it will run through the end of July at The Forum on the Manhattanville campus and we’re inviting stakeholders from different levels of community, policy, academia, and journalism to have a moment of exchange and engagement.

We want people to have an unlikely conversation about some of the deficiencies in the medical system and some of the problems that CHW’s conquer in the work, so we can convince people to make a difference, to get more funding, support, better training, and visibility…so CHW’s aren’t treated as an institutional after-thought.

What is the PhotoVoice technique?

Capotescu: We’re using a method, very loosely, called PhotoVoice. Essentially, PhotoVoice is a picture that is taken in a moment or situation that depicts a certain relationship from the perspective of those who took the picture. It is accompanied by a text that provides a texture and context to make tangible what the picture is about. It is sort of like a photo essay. 

We’ve been doing a series of workshops with CHWs. The first session was a training session, where we explained the PhotoVoice method and what the project is about. In the second session, we gathered the material they produced and discussed it in a group setting. There’s a  bit of guidance from our side during the process while they polish their stories. We’ve done this now with 60 CHWs. Many of them come from almost everywhere in New York City.


Read the stories of three Community Health Workers below, and make sure you stop by the exhibit beginning June 14 at The Forum, 601 W 125th St.

Jaunia Coombs-Clark



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