Need for and Barriers to Developing Health Networks in Rural Areas
While the need for networks and coalitions are similar between rural and urban areas, there are some
barriers that are unique to rural. For example, agriculture and farming introduce occupation-related
health risks distinctive to communities in which these occupations are large contributors to the
economy. Behavioral and mental health concerns present differently in rural communities than in urban
and suburban areas. The uniqueness of presentation, in addition to insufficient funding, workforce,
scope of expertise, and sustainability plans, are cited as barriers
to advancing health work in rural communities and reinforces the benefits of network development.
Limited resources: Grants are frequently used to fund rural programs, but funding is generally
program-specific and time-limited. Funding awards are often pieced together, which can often lead to
disjointed programming and focus for organizations. Working in a network capacity allows partners to
pool existing resource and staff capacity.
Reach: Small organizations and communities are often restricted by the intrinsic barrier of
limited reach in their programming. Networks often address this barrier by providing a way to expand
a program's work and vision to audiences of other network members.
Sustainability: Establishing a network requires time and dedication from all members. It can
be challenging to get initial buy-in from network partners, given competing demands on their time. To
secure buy-in and respect individual members' time and effort, it is critical to plan for network
sustainability from the start. Envisioning and planning for a sustainable
network from the onset of development will provide credibility and encourage buy-in from partners.
Please visit Module 6: Sustainability
Strategies for Rural Health Networks and Coalitions for additional information on sustainability.
Resources to Learn More
Network Aim for
Sustainability and strategic planning tools and resources for rural health networks.
Organization(s): The National Rural Health Resource Center
Provides a listing of current federal rural health funding opportunities, including health network
Organization(s): Federal Office of Rural Health Policy