Accreditation: Is Your Health Department Ready to Apply?

Nov 2, 2011, 1:56 PM, Posted by

This year’s APHA meeting is the first one since the launch of the Public Health Accreditation Board’s (PHAB) national, voluntary accreditation program for state, local and tribal health departments. At past APHA meetings, attendees have gotten previews on the accreditation standards and rollout plans. This year, it’s finally time to learn how health departments are starting to get organized and ready to apply for accreditation—and what PHAB has been hearing as the program gets underway. Several state health department representatives shared their accreditation plans and activities to date at a session here this morning.

Jack Wilson, from the New York State Department of Health, told attendees that his department is using a strategic planning tool traditionally used in the private sector to align its specific strategies (enforce public health laws, maintain a competent workforce, promote tools to improve health, etc.) to PHAB’s domains. The health department recognizes that it has many disparate programs and initiatives that would benefit from being aligned with larger strategic goals. Despite progress, though, Wilson said that the strategic planning process is time-intensive and can be derailed by unexpected events like this summer’s Hurricane Irene damage in upstate New York.

“The Kentucky accreditation train has departed!” said Rona Stapleton from the Kentucky Department of Public Health (KDPH), sharing that her department plans to apply in 2014. In spring 2010, with help from ASTHO staff and an ASTHO grant, KDPH began developing a plan to sell the idea of accreditation internally; pull together a readiness team; and design a logic model for meeting accreditation goals. Stapelton said she and her colleagues reached out to ASTHO, NNPHI and others who could share best practices so that the department could take advantage of work that had already been done.

Lynette Cook, from the Ohio Department of Health (ODH), described the development of her department’s state health assessment and state health improvement plan. Like KDPH, Ohio staff sought technical assistance from ASTHO and input from other states that were further along in the accreditation preparation process. Among other lessons learned so far, Cook said that it is imperative to have health department partners take ownership of specific parts of the plan so that these partners can report back to the health department on progress and free up the health department for bigger-picture deliverables.

Later in the day, PHAB Board Members Carol Moehrle and Bud Nicola gave an update on the materials PHAB has to offer and a snapshot of the work being done across the country. Moerhle encouraged the audience—many of whom came from beta test accreditation sites—to bookmark PHAB’s website since all of the guides, checklists and other materials will be updated frequently. She shared several reminders and recent updates from PHAB:

  • The accreditation process is now paperless
  • There are 12 domains in the PHAB standards—the 10 essential public health services plus administration and governance.
  • Applicants are encouraged to limit themselves to two examples to document their success on each domain.
  • Accreditation fees are accepted in almost any form—applicants can even wait until grant money is available.

Nicola focused on giving specific advice to health departments starting to focus on the accreditation application process:

  • Organize your health department so that someone is dedicated to the application process.
  • Work on the prerequisites (health assessments and health improvement plans).
  • Watch the educational videos available on the PHAB website.
  • Before you begin to document your work toward meeting PHAB standards, be clear on what the documentation should look like.
  • Set focus on a few vital priorities.
  • Engage every employee in your department.
  • Reward and celebrate progress.

When it comes to quality improvement efforts, PHAB is practicing what it preaches. Upon hearing about a “thorny issue” from a particular health department, such as the question of whether small rural health departments can apply for some sort of cross-jurisdictional accreditation, PHAB pulls together a “think tank” of experts to decide how to proceed. This way, they are ensuring that can remain nimble and meet the needs of all would-be applicants.


This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF New Public Health blog.