Advocacy and Accreditation: PHAB’s Focus on Advancing Public Health Infrastructure

by Paul Kuehnert, DNP, RN, FAAN


Strong public health departments are essential for healthy and safe communities. This simple truth—evident to all of us in the “public health choir” before the COVID-19 pandemic tore through our communities—should be evident to all community members and policymakers now. Unfortunately, I think it is not.

To change what otherwise may default to a negative narrative of our public health response, we need to take every opportunity to fully engage in the public dialogue regarding what we have been learning from the US response to the pandemic. We need to clarify what exactly we mean by “strong health departments” and why they matter to everyone.

One opportunity we have to begin to shape the narrative right now is presented by the introduction this week of the Public Health Infrastructure Saves Lives Act (PHISLA) by Senator Patty Murray (D-WA). We should take the opportunity this legislation provides to bring our unique experiences and perspectives to inform community members, leaders, and policymakers about the importance of this Act to securing the future health of our nation. To find out more about the PHISLA, see the Trust for America’s Health Public Health Infrastructure Fact Sheet.

The Public Health Accreditation Board (PHAB) is proud to bring its voice and perspective to the national conversation about what we have learned about the importance of strong health departments. Accreditation measures the department’s current ability to deliver essential public health services and fosters a commitment to continuous quality improvement. We know, from nearly a decade of experience now in assessing health departments against national standards, that health departments need modern tools, active community partnerships, and a well-prepared workforce in order to help create conditions in which all community members can thrive.

The PHISLA provide much needed support to state, territorial, local, and Tribal health departments to address these core needs with the communities they serve.

As we continue to respond to the global pandemic, we are looking ahead to the future of public health. Let’s effectively use this moment to explain how strong public health departments – the backbone of their community – are and do all we can to ensure they are provided the resources to save lives by protecting and promoting health.


Paul Kuehnert, DNP, RN, FAAN

Dr. Paul Kuehnert is President and CEO of PHAB, where he oversees all aspects of PHAB’s mission and work, including accreditation-related strategies, partnerships, long-range planning, PHAB’s Board of Directors, committees/think tanks, and student opportunities. Dr. Kuehnert’s career spans nearly 30 years of providing executive leadership to private and governmental organizations to build and improve systems to address complex health and human services needs. Immediately prior to joining PHAB in January 2020, Dr. Kuehnert served for seven years at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) in Princeton, NJ, most recently in the role of Associate Vice President for Program. Prior to joining RWJF in 2012, he spent five years as the County Health Officer and Executive Director for Health for Kane County, Illinois, a metro-Chicago county of 515,000 people. In that role, Dr. Kuehnert provided executive leadership and oversight to four county departments: Health, Emergency Management, Community Reinvestment and Animal Control. Earlier, he served as Deputy State Health Officer and Deputy Director of the state of Maine’s Health Department. Dr. Kuehnert is a pediatric nurse practitioner and holds the Doctor of Nursing Practice in executive leadership as well as the Master of Science in public health nursing degrees from University of Illinois at Chicago. He was named a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Executive Nurse Fellow in 2004, a Fellow in the National Academies of Practice in 2010, and a Fellow in the American Academy of Nursing in 2015.

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