Public Health Department Accreditation a Popular Topic at APHA’s 2018 Annual Meeting

by Teddi D. Nicolaus


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.

Accreditation APHA 2018

The topic of public health department accreditation resonated powerfully through the cavernous halls and conference rooms of the San Diego Convention Center in November as more than 12,000 past and future public health leaders convened for the American Public Health Association’s (APHA) 146th Annual Meeting. With the sparkling San Diego Bay serving as a majestic backdrop, attendees listened and learned as presenters shared an array of information about the Public Health Accreditation Board’s (PHAB) continuing efforts to improve and protect the health of communities by transforming the quality and performance of state, Tribal, local, and territorial health departments.

With more than 70 percent of the US population now served by a health department that has achieved PHAB’s rigorous national standards, APHA’s Annual Meeting resounded with accreditation-related sessions. Monday, Nov. 12 kicked off with a discussion titled “Advancing Health Equity through Accreditation.” PHAB Accreditation Specialist April Harris opened the discussion and introduced the audience to speakers Wilma Wooten, public health officer for the County of San Diego Health and Human Services Agency; and Rebecca Hollenbach, research and evaluation consultant for Louisville (KY) Metro Public Health and Wellness’ Center for Health Equity. Dr. Wooten and Ms. Hollenbach discussed how accreditation has helped bolster health equity efforts in their communities.

On Monday afternoon, conference-goers gathered for a session titled “What Happens When Your Health Department Gets Accredited? The Impact of Sustained Support for Public Health Accreditation.” The session, offered annually by APHA’s Council of Affiliates, offers an opportunity for attendees to hear APHA Affiliates share first-hand stories about the accreditation readiness projects implemented in their states. The readiness projects are made possible through mini-grants provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and APHA. Over the past five years, the grants have supported 25 APHA Affiliates to implement accreditation readiness activities with state, Tribal, local, and territorial health departments.

On Tuesday, Nov. 13, conference-goers learned first-hand how the discipline of performance improvement (PI) has grown significantly within public health since the launch of PHAB’s national accreditation program in 2011. During a session titled “Building a Skilled Performance Improvement Workforce Within Public Health,” Public Health Foundation (PHF) President Ron Bialek and PHF Assistant Director Kathleen Amos introduced a set of competencies developed specifically for PI professionals and discussed resources that can help support implementation of those competencies within public health workforce development efforts.

Later that afternoon, attendees participated in an interactive discussion with  PHAB President and CEO Kaye Bender and PHAB Director of Research and Evaluation Jessica Kronstadt on the topic “Partnerships Between Students and PHAB to Support Health Department Accreditation.” As a learning organization, PHAB offers graduate and doctoral student internships, practicum experiences, and research opportunities. The presentations touched on selected outcomes of those partnerships, with each example highlighting the work completed and the partnership process between academia and PHAB in support of health department accreditation. Also during the session, presenters from several Ohio universities shared information related to advancing accreditation in Ohio. As mandated by Ohio law, local health departments in Ohio must be accredited by July 2020, placing increased demands on workforce and organizational capacity. Session highlights focused on the unique relationship created between the Ohio Department of Health and the Ohio State University Center for Public Health Practice to provide support to Ohio’s local health departments and also the ability to study accreditation readiness and the processes that local health departments undergo to obtain accreditation.

Topping off Tuesday’s topics, PHAB’s Jessica Kronstadt presented on quality improvement (QI) and performance management (PM), which is a key benefit of health department accreditation. The session included a brief review of evaluation findings about the benefits of accreditation and highlighted a recent study showing significant increases in QI/PM over time among accredited health departments.

In addition to sessions and presentations, PHAB and the Public Health National Center for Innovations (PHNCI — a division of PHAB) partnered with Nicole Sanchez of the international film production company WebsEdge to develop a video for APHA TV. The five-minute video, which highlights APHA’s 2018 theme “Health Equity Now,” was among about a dozen videos produced by invitation and shown continuously on TV monitors located throughout the San Diego Convention Center. The video was also shown continuously on the APHA TV channel at selected hotels in San Diego. View the video here.  

The Importance of Health Equity from Teddi Nicolaus on Vimeo.


Teddi D. Nicolaus

Teddi Dineley Nicolaus is the Communications Manager at the Public Health Accreditation Board (PHAB), overseeing efforts to effectively and accurately promote PHAB’s mission and foster a greater understanding of accreditation’s impact. Previously, she worked as a health reporter for The Nation’s Health, the official newspaper of the American Public Health Association in Washington, DC. Her journalism career spans more than two decades as a reporter, writer and editor for newspapers and magazines. She holds a Bachelor of Science degree in journalism from the University of Maryland. [Full bio]

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