Friday, September 2, 2016

10 Ky. health departments nationally accredited, 30 in pipeline

By Melissa Patrick
Kentucky Health News

Ten Kentucky health departments are now nationally accredited, with about 30 more in the pipeline, placing Kentucky third in the country for the number of health departments to have earned this status.

The Public Health Accreditation Board accredited Louisville Metro Public Health and Wellness on Aug. 17, making it the 10th in the state.

What does it means for a health department to be accredited? "It means that it is one of the finest health departments in the nation, and that it can assure its citizens that it has the capacity to meet any of the public health problems that that community might address," said PHAB Chair Dr. Douglas Scutchfield, the Peter Bosomworth Professor of Health Services Research and Policy at the University of Kentucky.

Kentucky has led the way in getting its health departments accredited. In 2013, Franklin County Health Department in Frankfort, Three Rivers District Health Department in Owenton and the Northern Kentucky Independent District Health Department were among the first 11 health departments in the nation to be accredited.

Since then, the Barren River District Health Department in Bowling Green, Bullitt County Health Department in Shepherdsville, Christian County Health Department in Hopkinsville, Green River District Health Department in Owensboro, Madison County Health Department in Richmond and the Lexington-Fayette County Health Department have been added.

Health departments are accredited for five years, and must re-apply for accreditation.

New state Health Commissioner Hiram Polk, who served seven years as the chair of the accrediting body for Surgery of America, emphasized the importance of accreditation, saying he plans to make sure the state Department for Public Health is accredited during his tenure, and encouraged all of Kentucky's local health departments to do the same.

"The accreditation process is hugely valuable," he said in an interview. "The process makes you better."

Scott Lockard, director of the Clark County Health Department, which plans to apply for its accreditation in January, agreed.

"We have already benefited from the process of preparing for accreditation," he said, because the process has created a "culture of quality improvement" in his organization. He said that because of the application process, which requires a community health assessment, his department now looks at programs based on what the community needs and the expected outcomes, instead of simply whether the funding is available to provide a service.

"Accreditation assures the public that there is a base level of professionalism that they can expect," Lockard said. "[And] feel confident that the health department in their community is serving them with high quality programs."

Scutchfield said engaging community partners in the community health assessment and community health improvement plan, which are both early accreditation requirements, often re-establishes relationships in the community that have been lost.

"Frequently people are unaware of the capacity and the activities of their local health department," he said. By engaging them in the process, it allows the health department to collaborate with others, like local hospitals, non-profits, fire-departments and schools, to help them with their missions, he said.

Scutchfield also noted that becoming accredited improves a health departments performance, governance and management systems, promotes quality improvements, helps departments better identify strengths and weaknesses, and helps boards and departments better provide their required 10 essential public health services. It also assures that certain plans and programs are in place to respond to both emergent and non-emergent situations.

"It provides credibility and accountability to the community. The community knows and can believe that its health department has met the rigorous standards of now some 150 health departments, out of the 2,600 in the United States," he said. "This is an important thing for health departments to do."

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