Objective: To analyze how organizational structures and scope (geographic and programmatic) generate dissonance between the organization and its workers, creating a paradox with policy implications for access to health care in hard-to-reach populations. The workers are lay community health workers called promotor(a)s. The organizations are community based organizations in which the promotor(a)s work, either as volunteers, part-time or as full-time wage staff.
Method: Ethnographic study of 12 organizations and their promotor(a)s. Data gathering included interviews with organization directors, promotor(a)s, service providers working with the organizations, and community residents served by the organizations and workers. In addition, promotor(a)s were observed in the course of their work. Sampling was a non-probability, snowball procedure for identifying the organizations and the workers within them.
Results: A paradox is emerging between (a) promotor(a)s who perceive their work to be locally focused and tightly integrated with the communities they serve and live in, and (b) the employing organizations that are expanding in geographical and programmatic scope because the work promotor(a)s do is in increasing demand by agencies and funding sources external to the communities served. The paradox potentially threatens to undermine and transform the work and working environment of the promotor(a)s. The challenge is to find a balance that will sustain a workable and working relationship among the organization, the workers, and the communities served.
Conclusion: Care is needed in setting out policies that translate the paradox into greater congruence among organization, workers and communities. Policy needs discussed focus on (a) worker training, (b) worker employment and deployment, and (c) funding source recognition of the paradox.