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Improving rural access to care: Recommendations for Georgia’s health care safety netBackground: In Georgia, the safety net provides health care services to vulnerable populations scattered across 74 urban and 85 rural counties. In rural communities, the safety net is challenged with longstanding gaps in service provision and persistent difficulty in making services accessible. The rural safety net in Georgia is vulnerable. Methods: An environmental scan was conducted of the Georgia rural safety net to assess who it serves, its providers, and how care is accessed in light of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The scan included analysis of population-based census and health databases and a literature review to inform recommendations. Results: The population served by the rural safety net is typically older, poorer, and less healthy than the population in urban areas. The principal providers of care in the rural safety net are community hospitals, federally sponsored and free or charitable clinics, and some health departments. While the ACA provides an opportunity to increase insurance coverage and access to care, it poses a financial challenge to providers of the rural health safety net. As the health system evolves, the rural health safety net must adapt to shifting priorities and patient populations. Conclusions: To enhance the sustainability of the rural safety net, it is necessary for providers to focus on coordination of care through integration of services and broader health system partnerships. Providers of the Georgia rural safety net and stakeholders should focus on (a) ensuring a comprehensive assessment of all components of the safety net, (b) facilitating change through high-performing health departments and community-based organizations, (c) funding efforts to provide patient-centered medical homes for the rural uninsured, (d) emphasizing the value of technology in the provision of care and information/data exchange, and (e) rewarding innovations in rural and safety net workforce development and deployment.
Leveraging university-community partnerships in rural Georgia: A community health needs assessment template for hospitalsBackground: Under the Affordable Care Act, nonprofit hospitals are required to conduct a Community Health Needs Assessment (CHNA) every three years. Using recommendations proposed by Georgia Watch, students and faculty members from the University of Georgia (UGA) conducted a CHNA for a hospital in a rural county in Georgia. The purpose of the CHNA was to identify community health problems and needs, as well as community assets and resources. The aim of this report is to describe the process for conducting the CHNA, the findings, and the lessons learned. Methods: The CHNA team consisted of students and faculty members from UGA’s College of Public Health and a Public Service and Outreach professional who worked in the community. In completing the CHNA, the team used the following fivestep process: define community, collect secondary data on community health, gather community input and collect primary data, prioritize community health needs, and implement strategies to address community health needs. Primary and secondary data were collected. Results: By triangulating findings across data sources, the CHNA team created a community health profile for the service area of the hospital. Based on these findings, the community identified four main areas for improvement, prioritized these health issues, and developed an implementation strategy for the hospital and community. Conclusions: The process used to conduct this CHNA can serve as a model for other rural communities undergoing similar assessments. Lessons learned from completing this CHNA can be applied to future CHNA efforts.