Connecting Services in Rural Communities
It should come as no surprise that rural communities face unique health and social challenges—from the extra distance to hospitals and clinics to a lack of sustainable funding for healthcare and social programs and higher overall rates of chronic conditions.
But small towns, farming communities, and other rural areas are places where neighbors know each other well and have a strong tradition of pitching in with help and support for those in need. Local organizations like food banks, churches, shelters, and a variety of third places—where people spend time between home and work—bring more services to the table while strengthening connection and community.
When community leaders and organizations come together in natural networks or informal partnerships, they can leverage their collective community knowledge and help reduce or overcome the barriers to better health and well-being in a way that no traditional network can. Their efforts and impact can be further enhanced with local care navigators and robust data and communication platforms that connect community-based organizations and services to people in need.
A Community Partnership in Action
In the video below, a community farm in upstate New York has become a center for agricultural education, food production, and therapeutic recreation, connecting local social service organizations to the larger food system. Unite Us’ collaborative software enables Pitney Meadows Community Farm to amplify its contribution to Saratoga County’s health and well-being by facilitating community partnerships that support people in need.
The Pitney family owned this 166-acre farm for three generations. To preserve it, they sold the property to a non-profit in 2016. Now, it serves as a community farm for nearby Saratoga Springs and the surrounding area.
Lynn Trizna at Pitney Meadows Community Farm says, “For us, focusing on our strength in producing healthy, fresh produce is great because then we can rely on the Unite Us Platform to learn more about the individual in need, and say, ‘Hey, we know some really great organizations that can provide this food to you.’ Because realistically, Pitney Meadows can’t be everything. We can’t be a senior center, we can’t be a health center. But we have great community partners that can offer those services.”
Healthy Alliance, an Independent Physician Association, facilitates those community partners through its network of organizations across New York state. Unite Us powers the Alliance’s referral network to connect over 580 organizations, ranging from regional hospitals to local schools and food pantries, so all communities have reliable access to needed resources that promote health and empower the underserved.
One of those partner organizations is the Saratoga Community Health Center, which provides integrated care to under-insured members of the local community. Many of those patients struggle with drivers of health including healthy nutrition in a region where food insecurity runs an average of eight percent. The Center’s Medical Director, Dr. Renee Rodriguez-Goodemote, says, “Healthy nutrition is outside the reach of many people. We’ve done group visits to Pitney with our patients. We’ve helped to plant garden beds, and that’s really given our patients an experience of the soil and growing something from seed and looking at where our nutrition comes from. And we’ve also had the benefit of their shared agriculture bags every week which are part of our Medical Education and Nutrition RX program.”
Another organization, Shelters of Saratoga, which provides support, shelter, and housing, also relies on Pitney Farms for food bags and brings guests to the farm to help with the harvest. Associate Executive Director Stephanie Romeo relies on the Unite Us Platform to facilitate referrals to the shelter for people who need emergency housing and to connect the shelter to other organizations and resources in the community.
Daniel Williams, Pitney’s Food Sovereignty Coordinator, knows that the network makes access to better health possible. “We can grow the food and we can distribute it. But working with these other organizations helps people navigate all the other health issues that come with having poor access to food. The network is really necessary to having a sustainable food system here in Saratoga.”
Dr. Rodriguez-Goodemote agrees. “It’s more powerful than any pill I can prescribe.”
How Unite Us Supports Natural Networks in Rural Communities
Rural communities often have their own system in place for connecting individuals in need to services and help in their community. It takes time and local knowledge for outside organizations to build trust and chip in with meaningful support.
At Unite Us, our goal is not to replace these networks but to help partners find each other, work together more securely, and streamline their processes to ensure no one slips through the cracks. We work hard to understand the needs and nuances of each unique community, and then use our technology to complement rather than compete with local efforts.
Through the Unite Us Platform, organizations can:
- Work more easily with community partners to connect individuals to services inside and outside of their community.
- Collaborate within the community to improve health literacy and advocate for health equity.
- Scale impact in a way that is sustainable and accounts for each organization’s particular needs.
No matter the ZIP code, we think everyone deserves access to what they need to thrive. For more information on how the Unite Us Platform can connect organizations in your community, please get in touch.
About Unite Us
Unite Us is the nation’s leading software company bringing sectors together to improve the health and well-being of communities. We drive the collaboration to identify, deliver, and pay for services that impact whole-person health. Through Unite Us’ national network and software, community-based organizations, government agencies, and healthcare organizations are all connected to better collaborate to meet the needs of the individuals in their communities.