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Background: Engagement in the core public health functions and ten essential services remains the standard for measuring local health department (LHD) performance; their role as providers of clinical services remains uncertain, particularly in rural and underserved communities.

Purpose: To examine the role of LHDs as clinical service providers and how this role varies among rural and nonrural communities.

Methods: The 2013 National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO) Profile was used to examine the geographic distribution of clinical service provision among LHDs. LHDs were coded as urban, large rural, or small rural based on Rural/Urban Commuting Area codes. Bivariate analysis for clinical services was conducted by rural/urban status. For each service, the proportions of LHDs that directly performed the service, contracted with other organizations to provide the service, or reported provision of the service by independent organizations in the community was compared.

Results: Analyses show significant differences in patterns of clinical services offered, contracted, or provided by others, based on rurality. LHDs serving rural communities, especially large rural LHDs, tend to provide more direct services than urban LHDs. Among rural LHDs, larger rural LHDs provided a broader array of services and reported more community capacity for delivery than small rural LHDs- particularly maternal and child health services.

Implications: There are capacity differences between large and small rural LHDs. Limited capacity within small rural LHDs may result in providing less services, regardless of the availability of other providers within their communities. These findings provide valuable information on clinical service provision among LHDs, particularly in rural and underserved communities.


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