Establishing interagency partnerships is essential to the success of services integration programs in rural communities. Some models, like one-stop shops and co-location of services, may require partners to share physical space in a facility in order to provide integrated services. Other models, like the community HUB approach, require several organizations to join together in an effort to decrease duplicative work across agencies that provide services to rural communities. Rural communities need to determine which community stakeholders and partners should be involved in their services integration program during the planning phase of the program.
Some services integration programs also have a board of directors or consortium that provides guidance. Memoranda of understanding (MOU) with partners are helpful in order to clearly define roles and responsibilities of different stakeholders. Programs that do not require a high level of direct interaction with partners may want to consider developing advisory councils for stakeholders and community members. These advisory group members can ensure that the community’s perspectives, interests, and needs are respected and represented and provide program leaders with suggestions for overcoming program challenges.
Outreach and marketing strategies to recruit community partners should include information about the goals, benefits, and costs of the program. Program leaders may hold regular meetings with partners to provide updates, encourage team building, and resolve emerging issues. Depending on the partners’ level of involvement, program leaders may hold cross-trainings about interagency collaboration and include partners in staffing decisions. The relationship with partners should be defined from the beginning to clarify roles and decision-making strategies, though these can be reevaluated over time depending on program needs.
One potential partner for any rural community is the local County Extension Office. The Extension Service is a nationwide system that provides research-based information to families, youths, schools, agricultural producers, foresters and local government. The County Extension Office is generally based at a land-grant university and staffed by experts in agriculture and health. The County Extension Office may offer valuable information and resources that can strengthen a rural services integration program. Services may include resources and referrals to community, state and federal programs; education; and case management services, among others.
One rural community services integration program partnered with its local County Extension to receive technical assistance and training on clinical and environmental programming. This developed into a community garden project that the County Extension Office coordinated to employ community members, and to provide the whole community with education on nutrition and fresh produce. A list of all County Extension Offices is available on the U.S. Department of Agriculture website.
To develop a one-stop shop for children with behavioral, developmental, social or emotional needs, Kreider Services Inc. participated in a multi-organization partnership. These partners — each representing separate organizations that identify, assess, and treat children with these issues — developed a formal partnership network that involved signing MOUs. A major facilitator of their success has been the collaboration across these organizations. In a rural setting where resources for addressing these problems can be scarce, it is important for providers and organizations to be collaborative, rather than competitive. For this one-stop shop, formalizing a partnership and developing a shared understanding of the goals of the project helped facilitate the collaboration.