The health care safety net is vulnerable, particularly in Georgia’s rural areas, according to a study published by the Georgia Health Policy Center in the spring supplement to the Journal of Georgia Public Health Association,Two Georgias: Addressing Health Equity in Rural Georgia. But in a time of health system transformation, there are steps rural providers can take to enhance the sustainability of the rural safety net.
In Georgia, the safety net provides health care services to vulnerable populations scattered across 74 urban and 85 rural counties. In rural communities, access to care is hindered by geographic isolation, by individual financial barriers (poverty and lack of insurance coverage), and by the lack of an adequate number of care providers. These challenges are compounded by the fact that rural health care safety nets serve an older, poorer, and sicker population.
However, the current, rapid changes in the health care environment afford rural safety net providers an opportunity to improve access to care through a combination of strategies that focus on integrating community-based services, collaborating with other health care system partners, and utilizing information technology to improve care coordination and expand the rural health workforce.
“The health system increasingly values efforts that prioritize improved clinical quality and patient experience, with lower costs,” says co-author Chris Parker, M.B.B.S., an associate project director at the Georgia Health Policy Center. “Safety net providers bring experience and expertise in providing comprehensive, culturally competent care to high-need, high-cost populations, often through established partnerships. Building on this experience, rural providers can play a key role in shaping integration and innovation in delivery of care to ensure that the rural safety net can remain a viable and indispensable component of the health system.”