What started with a simple conversation between two programs within the same bureau, has turned into an annual rural health clinic statewide survey with an incredible response rate. Since 2013, the Kansas State Office of Primary Care and Rural Health has partnered with the Kansas Health Facilities Program to survey the more than 160 rural health clinics across the state. These two programs are co-located within the state health agency and were moved together into the Bureau of Community Health Systems in 2012, resulting in a great partnership.
The Health Facilities Program is responsible for licensing and/or certifying medical care facilities and non-long-term-care entities in Kansas. This includes inspecting facilities to assure standards are being met. The Health Facilities Program had been surveying rural health clinics for many years as a way to verify and update their contact information and upload it to an online database.
“I had been asked from an outside partner how often the list of Kansas rural health clinics was updated, so I simply asked the Health Facilities Certification Coordinator,” said Sara Roberts, Director, Kansas SORH. “I learned that the Coordinator sent out verification forms (aka surveys) each year because she found it important to have up-to-date information for the scheduling of surveyors. During our brief chat, I asked how difficult it would be to add a few questions pertaining to rural health and they were delighted to partner with us.”
The annual survey, conducted each spring, includes a standard set of questions asked by the Health Facilities Program, such as contact information, hours of operation and counties served. The State Office incorporates additional questions specific to the data needed for that particular year, including: technical assistance needs, professional organization membership, electronic health record implementation, community health assessment involvement, telemedicine use, health care services provided, workforce needs and recruiting plans.
The Health Facilities Coordinator disseminates the survey and collects responses, either by SurveyMonkey or emailing the survey form, over the course of a month. The response rate has been at least 95% each year, including the survey recently completed this spring. The impressive response rate can be attributed to the Health Facilities Coordinator providing consistent reminders and following up individually with each clinic who does not respond. Additionally, the Coordinator will reach out to the State Office, when needed, for assistance with contacting non-responding clinics.
“The data we have gathered from the survey has been extremely helpful in so many ways. It has helped inform our future program plan, giving us a better idea of how we should focus our energy; and it allowed us to maintain a comprehensive list of all Kansas rural health clinics, which has been a key resource utilized by several other partners.” said Roberts. “Reaching such a large number of rural health clinics in the state with a small staff is definitely a challenge, but partnering with Health Facilities to conduct this large-scale survey allows us to leverage resources. I believe this kind of partnership is an untapped resource in many states if they have a relationship with their Health Facilities Program.”
Does your SORH have a “Promising Practice”? We’re interested in the innovative, effective and valuable work that SORHs are doing. Contact Ashley Muninger at email@example.com to set up a short email or phone interview in which you can tell your story.
Sara Roberts is the director of the Kansas State Office of Rural Health (KS SORH), and is serving as a Flex Committee co-chair this year.
Brag about your SORH a little—tell us about a successful project you undertook and why you think it was successful.
I came to the KS SORH in 2010. My background prior to becoming the SORH Director was health systems research and community evaluation. My experience has taught me the importance of community engagement and collaboration. It’s what I see as important to what I do–it’s who I am and where I’m going. And it’s what I think we have to do from a state perspective.
Because we’re a small SORH–we currently have a staff of three–we don’t have the staff to provide direct technical support to each of our rural communities to complete community health assessments (CHAs). In 2012 we created a mini-grant initiative to encourage local community partners to collaborate together on a CHA. Rural communities could apply only if they were willing to work with other community members. We wanted communities to show that the local health department, the local critical access hospital and at least one other community member were willing to partner together. Each entity had to sign the grant application to demonstrate their commitment, and agree meet at least four times during the grant period.
Between 2012 and 2013 we had 32 communities engaged in this project. As we began this project, our agency was also part of the development of Kansas Healthy Matters—a portal of health information that has county data, presented like a dashboard, where a county can look at a certain set of indicators for their county, and compare them to other counties in Kansas, as well as to Kansas and the United States as a whole. Communities can freely use that data as part of their CHA.
Since the completion of this initiative, another statewide partner has replicated our model to provide continued support for communities to develop community health improvement plans. Our project was also highlighted as an ASTHO Case Study. As a spin-off from this project, our Office is involved in another community-engagement activity, hosting regional meetings to talk about impacting population health and what communities need to jumpstart collaboration.
These things may seem small, but they’re all part of the bigger picture of health care. Kansas is very rural, so there’s always a lot of need. It has 105 counties, and there is a strong culture of localization and autonomy. We are trying to encourage communities to think regionally, to realize that a community may be broader than you think it is. It may be composed of four counties, but it’s still a community. It’s how you can define it. Through these meetings, we hoped that local health folks begin to connect with their neighbors as they discuss similar community health priorities and hear about what others in their regional community are doing.