As local and state governments prepare for the implementation of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), the Washington-based National Association of Counties (NACo) has granted technical assistance awards to three rural counties to help them assess and revitalize their local health care delivery systems. The recipients will work with NACo throughout 2011 to: identify local health care needs and factors affecting the local delivery of health care; assess the economic impact of the local health care sector and determine how the health care system can better meet community needs; and strengthen relationships with community partners to improve local health care delivery.

The three technical assistance recipients are Franklin County, Fla.; Pacific County, Wash.; and Refugio County, Texas. The technical assistance includes two community meetings for each county facilitated by consultants from the National Center for Rural Health Works — a program at Oklahoma State University in Stillwater, Okla. — as well as analysis of local health indicator data and community surveying. "America's health care systems serving rural communities are facing enormous challenges to provide adequate care," said NACo President and Tarrant County, Texas, County Judge Glen Whitley. "Counties believe that access to quality health care is critical to the physical and mental well being of their residents. The technical assistance will help these counties strengthen their health care systems."

The technical assistance is being offered in light of PPACA's requirement that nonprofit hospitals conduct periodic community health needs assessments to demonstrate they are taking on uncompensated care in their communities. "County involvement in community health needs assessments is very important to help ensure that the health care safety net burden is shared among local providers," Whitley said.

The technical assistance is funded through the Office of Rural Health Policy of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Read more information on NACo's program and see more information about the National Center for Rural Health Works.