A Publication of WTVP

The effectiveness of carrying out public health duties can be improved through a standardized accreditation process.

One of the struggles public health entities face across the nation is the lack of standardization for performance measurements, as different infrastructures and governing bodies make it difficult to effectively carry out their duties.

As in every organization, public health leaders need to be able to show a return on investment. A formal standardization of performance for health departments can provide evidence they are meeting important criteria. Voluntary accreditation for state, tribal, local and territorial health departments can improve the quality of care and demonstrate accountability to the public, community stakeholders and government officials.

A Process is Born

The goal behind accreditation is to improve and protect the public by increasing the quality and performance of health departments. To this end, in 2007, the Public Health Accreditation Board (PHAB) was created by the following organizations: Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), Centers for Disease Control (CDC), National Association of County and City Health Officials, Association of State and Territorial Health Officials, National Association of Local Boards of Health and the American Public Health Association. RWJF and CDC initiated funding, and in September 2011, the PHAB officially launched the first national accreditation program for all health departments. PHAB defines accreditation as the development of a set of standards, a process to measure health department performance against those standards, and recognition for those health departments who meet the standards.

In deciding what was important for national accreditation, PHAB put together a process that encompassed what all health departments should be focusing on. Essentially, accreditation is applying the main principles that govern public health: assessment, assurance and policy development. Accreditation looks at each health department’s domains in the areas of leadership, customer focus, strategic planning, community engagement, workforce development, and the evaluation and quality improvement of its programs. One identified area in which public health struggles is the evaluation of programs, as well as finding evidence-based practices to build those programs. Accreditation can help in this area and others, since it provides a comprehensive review of these domains. PHAB has developed 12 domains that make up the accreditation process. Each of these domains has standards, and each standard has measures for which the health department must provide documentation to prove they meet the standard.

Accreditation for local health departments is an important and time-consuming project. With decreased funding, organizations will need to be as competitive as possible. Public health leaders are seeing accreditation as a means of gaining increased decision-making skills, as quality assurance, and as an overall catalyst for performance improvement. PHAB and other supporting organizations predict that the accreditation process will help public health departments continuously improve the quality of services they provide to the community. For many health departments that become accredited, it will mean a greater accountability, increased performance and nationally recognized achievement.

Bringing It All Home

For the Peoria City/County Health Department (PCCHD), it means all the above and then some. Peoria has recently started the accreditation process and is already seeing short-term benefits. The Health Department created a team to review the standards and measures created by the PHAB. The first step is to review what we currently have in place and what we are missing. There are some quality improvement projects now underway which, once completed, will increase our ability to deliver services in more efficiently.

In addition, PCCHD has noticed the project has brought a sense of team camaraderie to the agency, and established a platform to better understand public health overall. In the end, PCCHD is looking forward to finishing the accreditation process and coming through with an improved quality of services to deliver to the community in Peoria—a health department responsive to the changing needs of the community and accountable to the public, to our funders and to our stakeholders.iBi

Nicole Ingold is the accreditation coordinator at the Peoria City/County Health Department. For more information on important public health issues, visit