A Guide for County Health Officials
It’s hard to overstate the impact that our county governments have on the health and safety of our communities this year. At the heart of the COVID‐19 vaccine rollout, county administrations are making it all happen to lead us to a new normal.
April is National County Government Month (NCGM). This year, we have more reasons than ever to appreciate and support the vital role that County Governments take to sustain the health and hope of our communities.
To show our appreciation and do our part, we want to provide relevant communications strategies to our county health stakeholders. Here, we highlight a few ways that will help your counties promote health resources and increase participation in your ongoing programs.
- Help residents stay up to date on resources made possible by The American Rescue Plan Act
On March 3rd, President Biden signed The American Rescue Plan Act into law. As this bill includes a budget of 65.1 billion in direct, flexible funds for counties, your departments are due to collect these funds for additional programs and resources imminently. The US Treasury has just released official guidance on the Recovery Fund. Half of the funds are due to be released this year, with the other half coming in no less than 12 months from the first disbursement. The bill also contains legislation for other necessary investments in local communities, and $1.5 billion for public lands among counties.
The impact of the pandemic continues to reverberate throughout our communities, as many families are still in crisis-mode to catch up financially. As counties are now seeing higher turnouts for vaccine administration, let it be known that these community members have resources and aid coming when applicable, during vaccine appointments. What other policies and legislation are your county officials and representatives pushing for at the state and federal levels during this time? How can you leverage the participation in the vaccine rollout to promote other important county resident health information?
On April 9th, the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) announced $1 billion in additional funding for the TANF program, made possible by the Pandemic Emergency Assistance Fund. These funds were set aside by the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 mentioned above. The intention for this budget is to provide temporary aid to families in crisis, and it may not be extended more than 4 months. Counties are in charge of implementing the program in nine states and account for half of the program’s national caseload allocation. State level governments must submit their requests to receive funds, which are determined based on their population’s share of minors and their prior amount of TANF spending for cash assistance.
- Build civilian trust in county government websites and online payment options
According to a recent consumer trend report[i] , 17.5 percent of consumers have fallen prey to online identity theft of some type, to date. Understandably, less than 50 percent of people believe their personal data is as safe as it was even five years ago. Yet, 70% of bill payers prefer to make one-time bill payments through websites and mobile or smart devices. In a time when contact-free measures are strongly encouraged, or quite possibly the only available option, the demand for smarter, stronger online payment security measures is greater than ever.
So, how can county governments earn the trust of their residents?
Counties who communicate that they keep up with the most up-to-date industry regulations and best practices will earn trust by protecting citizens to the highest degree available. First, with education and awareness of potential scams or security breaches that compromise personal data. County governments can leverage messaging in email communications, landing pages and social media posts to highlight videos and other resources on personal cyber security.
County governments should seek vendors that can deliver biometric and facial recognition capabilities in online payment mobile applications. Messaging across all county digital media channels can present supporting resources indicating how biometrics can be used and why they are essential for maintaining one’s data security. It is important to note that PCI (Payment Card Industry) compliance is not a ‘one and done’ matter. Industry regulations are always changing and as security measures increase, so do the skills of cyber-hackers.
- Harness the power of social listening
Social listening is the practice of tracking, analyzing and responding to conversations across the Internet. By monitoring or following discussions about your county programs and campaigns, you’ll gain valuable insight that can help you shape conversations around problems or issues towards your specific programs as solutions.
Social listening also helps identify your biggest proponents and influencers. Once you’ve identified advocates, thank and reward them for their efforts and support. Engage with them and involve them in content in your campaigns.
Consider joining forces on a joint social media campaign with community health advocates that have a pulse on specific health issues. Partners could be local nonprofit companies in the areas of substance abuse treatment, mental health services, domestic violence and preventative health services. Not only will you leverage their word of mouth through gaining exposure to their audience, you’ll gain access to conversations among these focus groups that can lead to more trust and participation.
- Help bridge the digital gap among underserved county residents
As the US passes the one-year mark since the COVID-19 pandemic hit, counties are recognizing the need for broadband infrastructure and reliable internet speeds for all. Whether its workforce adaptations, virtual learning or telemedicine appointments, the importance of internet access during the pandemic cannot be stressed enough.
County health officials are stepping up to the plate to create ways to bridge this technical divide. Both public and private sectors are working to disperse broadband capabilities for underserved communities.
Recent rules set by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) set new standards for collecting broadband deployment data from state, local and tribal mapping entities. Recent application engagement from the TestIT mobile app from NACo[ii] revealed that 65% of all counties are experiencing the Internet below the FCC’s standards for broadband.
The American Rescue Plan allows $10 billion for capital projects which would include broadband deployment for counties. These projects may help to enable remote work opportunities, education, health monitoring and other remote options which would help safeguard the health of the community and economy. As more internet access disparities have become clear during the pandemic, these projects require consistent digital and physical mail distribution to ensure those who need it receive access promptly.
If you’re looking for relevant, innovative solutions to the challenges posed by the current healthcare landscape, we’d love to talk with you. AB Med has experts available from a range of areas, including epidemiology and public health, as well as a range of service offerings that will allow you to customize the support you need for your county’s health resources and program initiatives.
REFERENCES & RESOURCES
- NACo. (2020). Bill Payments: Securing Citizens’ Trust. [online] Available at: https://www.naco.org/blog/bill-payments-securing-citizens%E2%80%99-trust [Accessed 19 Apr. 2021].
- Mar. 22, R.L. and 2021 (n.d.). NACo Broadband Task Force seeks solutions for counties. [online] NACo. Available at: https://www.naco.org/articles/naco-broadband-task-force-seeks-solutions-counties [Accessed 19 Apr. 2021].
By: Erik McLaughlin MD, MPH and Aikaterini Papadopoulou, B.Arch