What are vulnerable communities? They’re communities in rural and inner-city America that lack access to primary care or are hobbled by a poor economy, high rates of uninsured and low health literacy, among other things.

For the millions of Americans who live in them, the local hospital is an important – and often only – source of care. It provides prevention and wellness services, and community out­reach. The local hospital works to advance population health and well-being. It offers employment opportunities and plays a vital economic role.

On Feb. 6, at the 30th annual Rural Health Care Leadership Conference in Phoenix, the AHA released a discussion guide to help hospital and health system board members and leaders take innovative steps to preserve access to essential health care services in vulnerable rural and urban communities. The guide follows up on a recent report by AHA’s Task Force on Ensuring Access in Vulnerable Communities that outlined nine different strategies to help save struggling hospitals and preserve access to health care for vulnerable communities.

There is no “one size fits all” solution. Each community, rural and urban, can choose the strategies that will help them best. From addressing the social determinants of health to the use of telehealth and virtual care technologies, there is something for every hospital to benefit from.

Some strategies will involve congressional or regulatory action at the state or federal level. All demand that the health care field embrace new ways of thinking – aligning in new ways, considering new partnerships and, above all, promoting health so hospitals can continue to be an access point and an anchor of health care services within their communities.

To access the discussion guide, report and related resources visit www.aha.org/EnsuringAccess.