Watch CBS News

Montefiore Health System's community health workers focus on social needs as part of health care

Montefiore zeroes in on patients' social needs as part of health care
Montefiore zeroes in on patients' social needs as part of health care 02:06

NEW YORK - Montefiore Health System in the Bronx has a program that looks beyond medicine to help people. 

Montefiore screened 200,000 people for social detriments of health, and found at least 20% have at least one social need - such as housing, food insecurity and more. 

Marilyn Perez said her Bronx apartment exacerbates her asthma and COPD, making it difficult to breathe. 

"I need somewhere safe, because there is not good. Because it has mold, it has leaks," Perez said. "It smells bad. It makes me cough, and cough, and cough, and I can't sleep." 

Perez has tried to find a new place to live, but she said navigating the housing system can be complex. 

"On your own, it doesn't work. You need help," Perez said. 

That's where Toni Whyte comes in. She's a community health worker with Montefiore Health System. Using her own experiences and knowledge of the community, she fills the gaps between medical care and social services. 

"A lot of times they get met with 'no' and they don't understand why. I go in, with them, to advocate for them, to help them get the resources they need to better their lives," Whyte said. 

Whyte said oftentimes factors like housing, food insecurity and lack of transportation influence health outcomes. 

"I would say upwards of 80% of what dictates if someone is healthy is determined by things outside clinical care," Dr. Kevin Fiori said. 

What is the Community Health Worker Institute?  

Fiori and Renee Whiskey are behind the Community Health Worker Institute at Motefiore Health System. It launched in 2021 after seeing the economic needs of patients in the pandemic. It has already reached more than 7,000 patients. 

"I think medicine is better looked at as a team sport," Fiori said. "I'll handle the asthma medication and Toni will handle the mold of the house, and together we work, and that provides better care."

For Perez, that approach made all the difference. She just found out she secured a new apartment. 

"You stuck through it, and we did it together," Whyte said. 

"I wouldn't be able to do it without, or the program either," Perez said. 

The team behind the program is working to expand it, aiming to reach more than 9,000 patients this year alone. 

The inspiration for the program comes from Fiori's time in the Peace Corps in Africa in 2003. He was working with community health workers to help people living with HIV and saw the impact firsthand. 

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.