Special Report: Exploring Accreditation of Public Health Departments

Developing a common operational definition for local governmental public health agencies

Field of Work: Accreditation of public health departments at the local, state, tribal and territorial levels.

Problem Synopsis: Public health departments play a critical, but often unrecognized, role in promoting and preserving the health of people in communities across the country. Until recently, however, there was no system to encourage public health departments to measure their performance against national standards.

Synopsis of the Work: The nonprofit Public Health Accreditation Board (PHAB) based in Washington, is developing and implementing the national public health accreditation program to be launched in 2011 to improve and protect the health of the public by advancing the quality and performance of all public health departments across the country. RWJF and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) helped establish the PHAB, which was incorporated in 2007, to oversee the accreditation of public health departments. Both organizations continue to support the PHAB.

Key Results to Date: With broad input and support from public health practitioners, PHAB has developed standards for local, state, tribal and territorial health departments designed to work for all health departments, regardless of size, governance, organizational structure and community health needs. These standards will enable health departments to:

  • Ensure that they are providing the best services possible to keep their communities safe and healthy
  • Demonstrate accountability to their communities
  • Continuously improve the quality of the services they deliver to their communities

In November 2009, PHAB began a beta test of the accreditation program with 30 health departments: 19 local, eight state and three tribal. These health departments vary in size, structure, population served, governance, geographic region and degree of preparedness for accreditation, and thus represent the diversity of health departments in the United States.

This report describes the work by RWJF, the CDC and others leading to the development of the national public health accreditation program, as well as the status of the program and related activities as of April 2010.

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