Program guidelines for lay home visitors

Addressing health issues in context of daily life

Lay health mentors — also known as resource mothers, peer educators, and home visitors — model wellness behavior, provide emotional support, and advocate for at-risk women. In addition to teaching women about good health, they help clients put health-related issues in context with their lifestyles, relationships, work, and other aspects. Mentors train clients to communicate effectively with physicians, other caregivers, and community service providers.

Consider these five guidelines for setting up such a service:

1. Before beginning, ask, "Would mentors in your area be used enough to keep them interested, knowledgeable, and current?" suggests Elizabeth Hilson, RNC, program director of FoxCare Women’s Wellness Center in Oneonta, NY.

2. Whether your lay health mentors meet with patients in the home, your center, or the community, here are tips on what to look for in a candidate. The person must:

— care deeply about others;

— be motivated to channel their compassion into action;

— have excellent communication skills;

— be open and nonjudgmental to talk about sensitive issues;

— be able to work with the English-speaking system as well as with non-English speaking patients served.

3. If your mentors visit women at home, avoid duplication of services.

"Your program should collaborate with home health visits conducted by public health agencies, as well as services offered by other stakeholders" in your community, Hilson says.

4. Wherever lay health mentors reach women, periodic training is essential. According to América Bracho, MD, MPH, chief executive officer of Latino Health Access in Santa Ana, CA, periodic training should address communication skills, conflict management, and stress control.

"Mentors must continue their homework," Bracho insists. "Work with them on their own skills and issues so they can help others."

5. Maryjane Henning, BSN, MPA, director of the MotherNet L.A. program in Compton, CA, recommends management review mentors’ caseloads regularly. Accompany them on home visits as needed to ensure they are providing the kind and quality of information you expect.

Bracho urges, "Always be concerned with the [lay health mentor’s] feelings. Remember to encourage them to become involved with the patient — but not to rescue the patient."