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COCC’s new community health certificate program, first in state, will prepare students for crucial roles

(Update: adding video, comments from COCC professor, community health worker)

BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) -- Central Oregon Community College’s public health discipline will begin offering a one-year certificate in community health this fall, the first of its kind in the state, fulfilling what's seen as a key role in the community.

Packaged as a three-term program, the certificate is intended to provide job-ready skills that are highly sought after by local employers. In addition, all community health certificate courses can be applied to the Associate of Arts Oregon Transfer (AAOT) degree with a focus on public health.

The COCC community health certificate prepares students to work in the fields of public health, health care and community-based organizations. Community health workers provide culturally appropriate health education, connect residents with social supports and advocate for health needs. Studies have shown that their work improves health outcomes, reduces health care costs and advances health equity.

"The college's new community health certificate will bolster our region's public health workforce," says Dr. Sarah Baron, assistant professor of public health, "while helping individuals connect with meaningful careers."

The program will have students in the classrooms and out in the workforce getting hands-on experiences through practicums and internships.

"So what's unique about this certificate of completion here is that you get to do the training, the college classes, and we put you out into the workforce -- that builds your resume, that gives you experience. That's what's really powerful,” Baron told us Tuesday.

According to Baron, the program is the first of its kind in the state: "We're one of the first doing this community health certificate in the state of Oregon. And Oregon is actually leading the way with community health work."

As part of the curriculum and the college's public health career pathway, students will complete the training necessary to become state certified community health workers (CHW) and peer support specialists.

Mosaic Community Health worker Dayana Ortega says the work involves connecting people to resources they may not be aware of.

“A lot of people don’t know the things Central Oregon offers. They don’t know about the food pantries, how HOP offers free transportation. We’re kind of like a middleman. So it’s nice to be able to tell people, 'This is where you can get this, and I can help with this.;” Ortega said.

She encourages people to get into the field, because every day is different.

Ortega explained some of things she does on a daily basis.

"I get a lot of transportation needs," she said. "Mosaic offers transportation services to get to medical appointments and dental appointments. You have to be a patient to get those services. I help people fill out paperwork. I get food from food pantries for people. I get them the resources that they need to potentially do it on their own as well."

Community health program graduates work to reduce unequal rates of illness and death among different communities, promote wellness and advocate for health equity. Courses cover foundations of public health, sustainable development, motivational interviewing and health promotion strategies.

Students can take the classes in-person on the COCC Bend campus, with some offerings available online. There are no academic prerequisites, but students need a high school diploma or GED to enroll. 

Registration for the new community health certificate program and all other COCC fall term classes is now open at

Article Topic Follows: Education

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Jillian Fortner

Jillian Fortner is a multimedia journalist for NewsChannel 21. Learn more about Jillianhere.


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