A Publication of the Public Library Association Public Libraries Online

Providing Healthcare Information Services in Small and Rural Libraries

by on May 23, 2019

by Jacqueline F. Rammer, Library Director, Lakeview Community Library
Random Lake, WI — jrammer@monarchlibraries.org

As librarians working in rural and oftentimes small libraries, our days consist of so many things. From being the town warm-up center during a frigid snowstorm to hosting a never-ending number of bake sales, our plates are full. So, when it comes time to assist people with vital steps to protect themselves and their families, how do we possibly handle it? Assisting people with their healthcare needs is never easy, and as librarians we are even more limited in how exactly we can help. By following these key recommendations, rural librarians throughout the country will be able to provide healthcare information assistance all of our patrons. 

First, librarians in every size library should read about the limitations that exist when it comes to assisting patrons with healthcare sign-up. We know that many people who are signing up for healthcare will need computer assistance. It’s important to remember that there are other, non-technological ways to sign up for healthcare, including applying with a paper application, or calling someone at Healthcare.gov. If someone does indeed want to sign up online but requires computer assistance, just know how time-consuming that can be. It’s important to set limits and stick to them.

The most important step of promoting healthcare.gov sign-ups at the library will be partnering with certified application counselors. These are people who have had extensive training about the ins and outs of healthcare and the Affordable Care Act and are able to sign people up in person. You can search for application counselors in your area on healthcare.gov. This is where programming comes into play. Here we have opportunities for collaboration, such as drop-in hours where patrons can come to the library and meet with a certified application counselor in order to get signed up. Many nonprofit clinics offer these services. 

Of course, there are some of us who are so rural or in an area where resources are so tight that this is not possible, and it is one of the many challenges that can come with being a small library. So, if we cannot bring the people to the library, how do we get the word out to our patrons? Marketing is paramount. It is vitally important to reach many people, both those insured and uninsured. I encourage you to try something new with your marketing and widen your scope in reaching out. Health insurance is not only something that we all desire, but it is also a requirement to have. Therefore, it literally applies to everyone! Even people who are offered insurance through their employers are turning to healthcare.gov if one of the options is the better choice for them financially or coverage-wise. 

It is important to educate the public on what the Affordable Care Act is. So often—and we all know this—we go off of what we hear on television or in brief articles in the newspaper. This does not necessarily give people the entire picture of what is going on or how the Affordable Care Act and healthcare.gov can assist them or their friends and family members. I highly encourage directing people to healthcare.gov or printing out posters and other marketing material, all of which is readily available for free online. 

The bottom line is that we need to remember that we are librarians. Our main goal is to direct people to information, not do things for them. We show people where the books are, but we do not read them for our patrons (unless they are at Storytime, of course!). Similarly, there are legitimate restrictions that we have in place when it comes to signing people up for healthcare. When patrons ask us to “just do it for them” or click through the questions for them, it’s a slippery slope that could lead to liability. Most of us are not certified application counselors and we do not want to pretend that we are. That is why the most important thing that we can do is refer patrons to those that have taken the time to learn the ins and outs of the ACA and do our best to bring these counselors to our libraries, if not for counseling than at least for informational presentations. 

We often see patrons through some of the most important times of their lives. Whether they are printing out confidential material about a medical diagnosis or getting ready to buy their first home, libraries are where many people turn to for more information on big life events. Along with many of these experiences that our patrons have, it is with healthcare sign-ups that we can truly relate to and understand our patrons. Everyone wants to have affordable and accessible healthcare. Indeed, you may find that there are many of us in small or rural libraries who may be on the public computers right next to our patrons, signing ourselves and our families up for affordable healthcare.