SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Southeast Tech’s first class of certified community health workers graduated this week.

It’s a program that’s been years in the making to help fill an important gap in health care and social services across the state.

“You go in and see your practitioner, they might give you a care plan for whatever issue or condition you might have,” Angela Landeen, the Community Health Worker Certificate Director at Southeast Tech said.

But Landeen says not every patient is able to fully follow through on their doctor’s recommendations. Take diabetes for example; it’s a health condition that requires a major change in diet. But some patients may not have access to healthy food or understand which foods to select. A community health worker can help make sure community members are equipped to make those adjustments.

“A CHW can help go with you to the grocery store, help you find food, learn how read the labels, learn how to maybe get into nutrition, cooking classes, if you don’t have physical transportation, we can help you with that too,” Landeen said. 

“We have really amazing resources in Sioux Falls and a lot of people in need, the bridge to that is community health workers,” Southeast Tech CHW Certificate graduate Dakotah Jordan said.

Dakotah Jordan works at Lost and Found, a suicide prevention nonprofit in Sioux Falls, who got her connected to the program at Southeast Tech.

“They said you’re going to be doing this program that’s funded through the state through this grant and you’re going to do some education, about 10 hours a week,” Jordan said.

She is part of the first class of graduates from Southeast Tech’s new Community Health Worker certificate program.

“They have everything paid for, they’re salaried while they’re in class taking these courses through us,” Landeen said. 

The 16-week online program is funded through a CDC grant to help jump-start the CHW profession in the state.

“I started out in the agency about 21 years ago,” Mendy Herke with Inter-Lakes Community Action Partnership said. “We serve 14 counties on the eastern side of the state.”

The program is helping new and veteran health and social services workers like Mendy Herke learn what resources are available all across the state.

“The students are building their resources and their network,” Landeen said. 

 While also showing them how to use that network to help people in need.

“That’s exactly what a community health worker does, is actually going out into the community and making sure that the people who need help meet it,” Jordan said. “We just want to help create a better health outcome for everyone we serve,” Herke said. 

This Friday 17 students from all over South Dakota will graduate from Southeast Tech’s first-ever CHW program. A second round of students and professionals of all ages will begin their certification as a community health worker this January.