Three Kentucky health departments in first group up for national accreditation; requires local health assessment, improvement plan

By Molly Burchett
Kentucky Health News

Three Kentucky health departments are among the first in the nation to be considered for national accreditation, a process that could help improve patient care and put the agencies in closer touch with their communities’ needs.

The national Public Health Accreditation Board will make its first accreditation decisions next week. Among the first group being considered are the Franklin County Health Department, the Three Rivers District Health Department in Carroll, Gallatin, Owen and Pendleton counties, and the Northern Kentucky Independent District Health Department, in Boone, Grant, Kenton and Campbell counties.

The decision will be a historic one, and this is an exciting time for the board and Kentucky, said board Chair Dr. Douglas Scutchfield, professor of health services research and policy at the University of Kentucky College of Public Health.

The accreditation program was launched in September 2011 after a seven-year development process aimed at advancing quality and performance and value in the departments, and their accountability to stakeholders, Scutchfield said.

Departments are assessed by rigorous standards tested in 30 diverse health departments across the country to ensure essential public health services are provided in the community, according to the board’s website. Two of the 12 “domains” of the standards deal with administration and governance. In Kentucky, state law makes county health boards responsible for the health of the county. Counties served by district health departments still have county boards.

Accreditation can help a board and department identify opportunities to improve performance and management, and to improve relationships with the community, since the process requires a community health assessment, a community improvement plan and a strategic plan to address the need of the community, said Scutchfield.

The process, often called “Mobilizing for Action through Planning and Partnerships,” can help boards and departments be better prepared to proactively respond to emerging and re-emerging health challenges. For a PDF of Franklin County’s MAPP document, click here.

The accrediting board has received 108 applications from health departments around the nation: 13 state health departments, 94 local health departments and one tribal agency. In addition to the three Kentucky agencies being considered in the first group, the other Kentucky departments that have applied for accreditation and are awaiting site visits are Lexington-Fayette County, Barren River District, Madison County and Christian County, Jill Midkiff, chief spokesperson for the Cabinet for Health and Family Services, said in an email.

The accreditation process encourages departments to move away from the “silo” model to collaborate with community programs. In Christian County, it has changed the way department employees view their jobs, because they have to continuously reflect on their methods and brainstorm for ways to improve, Health Department Director Mark Pyle told Nick Tabor of the Kentucky New Era.

“Accreditation will likely open new revenue streams,” Tabor writes. “But in a way, the process matters more than the status designation.”

Midkiff said, “In addition to benefiting from the process itself, our federal and state resources in public health are increasingly shrinking, we are being asked to do more with less. And there is a need for transparency within agencies.”

Midkiff said accreditation “may make the agency more competitive for grants in the future. We are actually seeing quality improvement and performance management requirements being written in many federal grants now, so it is being expected at the national level.”

Although accreditation is completely voluntary, it is being encouraged for local health departments by the state Department for Public Health, which is in the process of applying for its own accreditation in 2014. Midkiff said the department just completed its state health assessment, which is now being reviewed, and is beginning to assemble partners to write a state health improvement plan, which should take about a year.

Kentucky Health News is an independent service of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues at the University of Kentucky, with support from the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky.

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