What Does a Board of Health Member or Elected Official Get Out of Working With a Local Health Department on Accreditation?

by Harvey Wallace, PhD 

Focus on Accreditation and Innovation addresses current issues related to the Public Health Accreditation Board’s national public health department accreditation program, and the Public Health National Center for Innovations. This series highlights the experiences and perspectives of accredited health departments and explores topics related to the Standards and Measures, research and evaluation findings, and the latest innovations in public health practice.

Harvey Wallace, PhD

There is no short, direct answer to this question. The best answer requires knowledge of the process or “road” to accreditation through the Public Health Accreditation Board (PHAB), and that knowledge is best left to the local health department’s leadership team. However, the initial application process requires a letter of support from the governing entity. Which brings us back to the original question: Why support a process that takes time and money and is voluntary?

I have been a proud member of my local board of health for a very long time, having been appointed by my county commission. I am also a proud member of the National Association of Local Boards of Health (NALBOH), as well as a proud member of PHAB’s Board of Directors. Though each role is separate and distinct, the common thread that weaves this trio of responsibilities together is the importance of national accreditation through PHAB. Working with local health departments, NALBOH, and PHAB gives me a unique perspective and affirms our shared roles in the performance of NALBOH’s six Functions of Public Health Governance: policy development, resource stewardship, legal authority, partner engagement, continuous improvement, and oversight.

PHAB accreditation strengthens a local health department (LHD) and helps it better serve its community. Boards of health participate in the community health assessment and the community health improvement plan, bringing them together with not only other health care providers but also with a wide range of community members interested in working toward a common goal. Working toward PHAB accreditation helps the LHD better identify the strengths and weaknesses in the public health system, which leads to a strategic plan directed toward achieving its mission and vision. This plan can be used to assess a LHD’s progress toward meeting its program goals.

When a health department achieves PHAB accreditation, there is a community-wide celebration. The local newspaper and media stations broadcast the news and help explain what it all means. Accreditation, the community is told, means that its LHD is among a growing number of health departments around the country that meet PHAB’s nationally approved standards and measures that advance quality and performance in LHDs.

Around the nation, LHD employees, after working so hard to achieve PHAB accreditation, are looking forward to working on the goals identified in their community health improvement plans. A question many have is “Does accreditation make it easier to get state and/or federal funding for local programs?” The answer is a definite maybe. More than half of PHAB’s accredited health departments report that they used information they developed during the accreditation process to acquire additional funding. There is growing evidence that PHAB-accredited health departments are contributing to positive health outcomes. This should encourage funding agencies to provide accredited health departments with additional opportunities.

Meanwhile, local boards of health around the nation will continue their oversight functions and will continue to move toward their goals, which for my own board of health is a vision of “a community where people achieve the highest quality of life through healthy living by caring for themselves, one another, and the environment.”

Harvey Wallace, PhD, is Dean Emeritus of the College of Health Sciences and Professional Studies at Northern Michigan University. [Full bio]

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