Establishing a National Public Health Accreditation Organization

An RWJF National Program

Dates of Program: June 2007 through June 2015

Description: RWJF and CDC supported the establishment of an independent, nonprofit organization—the Public Health Accreditation Board (PHAB)—and its development and management of the first national voluntary accreditation program for public health departments.

Under PHAB’s guidance, about 400 public health practitioners helped develop the accreditation program, with assistance from the major public health associations and other experts. Workgroups developed accreditation standards and measures, which were designed to work for all health departments, regardless of size, governance, organizational structure, and community health needs, and the accreditation process.

As the public health accreditation program was being developed, RWJF and CDC provided funding and technical assistance to help Tribal, state, and local health departments prepare for accreditation and quality improvement (QI) work.

To continuously improve the accreditation program, PHAB is conducting internal and external evaluation activities, guided by public health practitioners experienced in research and evaluation. NORC at the University of Chicago is conducting an external evaluation.

“Accreditation is the assurance to the public, taxpayers, legislators, and the community that they have a quality health department that is doing quality public health work.”—Terry L. Cline, PhD, Oklahoma State Department of Health

Key Results

  • In September 2011, PHAB launched the first national accreditation program for all public health departments.

  • By December 2014, nearly 205 million Americans—about 66 percent of the total population—were being served by either an accredited health department or a health department that has applied for accreditation. Some 60 health departments had been accredited.

  • In general, the accreditation process met the expectations of the 15 health departments that evaluators interviewed in terms of fostering QI, increasing department professionalism, and enhancing knowledge about the health department and its jurisdiction.

“This was an opportunity for us to be a leader in public health, and a model for other health departments in our state and in big cities across the country that this could be done.”—Jaime Dircksen, BA, AM, Deputy Commissioner, Chicago Department of Public Health

Significance

Establishing PHAB and the early years of the public health accreditation program have already had a significant impact on the public health field, according to staff at RWJF, CDC, PHAB, and health departments interviewed for this report. That impact includes:

  • A growing momentum around accreditation

  • A strong focus on the mission of, and a consistent framework for, public health.

  • Increased focus on QI and performance improvement

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66% of Americans are served by a health department that is accredited or has applied for accreditation.