ASTHO Annual Meeting: A Conversation about Public Health Department Accreditation

Sep 19, 2013, 11:44 AM

John Wiesman, DrPH, MPH John Wiesman, DrPH, MPH, Secretary of Health for the state of Washington

Public health department accreditation is a key topic on the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO) annual meeting agenda this year. John Wiesman, DrPH, MPH, Secretary of Health for the state of Washington, will participate in a discussion on the issue during the meeting. He speaks with authority, as Washington, along with Oklahoma, is one of only two states recently accredited by the Public Health Accreditation Board.

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In advance of the meeting, NewPublicHealth spoke with Wiesman about the benefits of accreditation to public health departments and the communities they serve.

NewPublicHealth: What are benefits of public health accreditation to share with directors of state health departments who have not yet applied for the credential?

John Wiesman: Honestly, I think accreditation gives you bragging rights in the sense that you’re saying “our organization values quality and outcomes.” For example, you can add that to a grant for a question that asks about quality processes. That states your commitment and that a national organization found that to be true. And it gives you bragging rights with fellow cabinet officers and the governor. To be able to say you are an accredited health department means something and you can value that.

Another critical thing is that for the local public health agencies in your state, the process of going through accreditation and developing a state health improvement plan gives you an opportunity to talk about how you want to improve health in your state and get everyone on the same page. So it’s a way to build relationships with health departments in the state and showcase priorities you want to work on together. In that sense, the process of applying for accreditation goes a very long way.

NPH: What benefit has the state health department accreditation brought to local health departments in your state who are considering applying for the credential?

Wiesman: We have learning collaborative in the state as well as some grants that allow us to work with local health departments on quality improvement to become accreditation-ready. And by having gone through the accreditation process ourselves as a state health department, we bring added credibility to the table and can answer many of their questions, and our firsthand experience gives things more meaning. I think it’s absolutely important for state health departments to become accredited if you want others to do that as well.

NPH: Now that the state health department is accredited, what’s next in continuing quality improvement for the department?

Wiesman: The whole point of quality improvement and outcomes is that it’s ongoing. The work is never over. Accreditation allows you to say that we were able to demonstrate that in some programs we’re doing fine, and in others we have more work to do on the quality improvement processes. And the community assessment and improvement plans give you the foundational structure in your leadership teams to say how you prioritize your resources and where you direct them. By having gone through the process, an accredited health department can have those conversations and say that it’s ultimately about improving the public’s health and this will really help get us there.

After accreditation, life goes on. It allows you to keep getting better at quality improvement processes and develop more tools in your toolkit for how you do quality improvement work.

NPH: Do you anticipate being asked about accreditation in hallway conversations at the ASTHO meeting?

Wiesman: Absolutely. And I think for me coming in as a new state health officer [Editor’s Note: Wiesman was appointed in April, following the retirement of Mary Selecky] to walk into an agency that has been accredited and that has done the strategic planning and all that is behind it gives me a platform to build from and to know where in the department I’m starting from. With other new health officials at the meeting as well, there will be an opportunity to let them know that accreditation will be helpful to them as health directors now, and is also a legacy they will be leaving for their organizations.

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