Setting the Standard: The Role of Accreditation in Transforming Public Health Practice and Promoting Equity

The key to transforming our public health system is to change how we practice it.

The Public Health Accreditation Board (PHAB) supports health departments to improve quality, accountability, and performance. Health departments are the backbone of the public health system, and our mission is to transform public health practice by championing performance improvement, strong infrastructure, and innovation of our health departments.

The key to transforming our public health system is to change how we practice it. This begins with equity and using an equity lens to drive decisions and resources to serve our communities. Accreditation is a way to influence and guide public health department practice and performance to facilitate transformation across the country.

What is public health accreditation?
National public health accreditation through PHAB measures a health department’s performance against a set of practice-focused and evidence-based standards. Our rigorous, peer-led review process fosters a culture of continuous quality improvement, accountability, and transparency in governmental public health departments.

Through accreditation, health departments show their capacity to improve the health of populations, address social determinants of health, and promote health equity. And doing so collaboratively with the community and partners. Accreditation encourages health departments to keep pace with the changing landscape of public health practice by continuously improving and provides a means for transparency and accountability to their residents and stakeholders.

Our Role
We know that strong public health departments are essential for healthy and safe communities. To create conditions where all community members can thrive, health departments need modern tools, active community partnerships, and a well-prepared workforce. As the sole, national accrediting body for governmental public health in the US, PHAB supports health departments in building those key capacities to strengthen their infrastructure, delivering essential public health services, and approaching policies, processes, and programs with equity in mind.

As a public health organization that impacts the health of communities across the country, we must hold equity as a core organizational value and practice. Equity is essential to ensuring communities have access to the resources, services, and opportunities to thrive, and should be applied systematically to all health departments do. This includes collecting and using data to understand inequities in health, but not stopping there. Health departments must go deeper than the data and actively examine and dismantle power structures to center community and decision making; and ensure policies and practices do not reinforce structures of oppression based on race, culture, sexual orientation, ability, or other identities.

Our Efforts
In September 2020, PHAB adopted its strategic plan which includes a priority to “create and implement a comprehensive anti-racism, diversity, equity, inclusion (DEI) strategy to address structural racism and inequity within PHAB, public health departments, and the public health sector.” PHAB has also commissioned a paper, Advancing Health Equity in Health Department’s Public Health Practice, and convened a dedicated health equity workgroup to inform Version 2022 of the Standards & Measures.

Version 2022 has a greater emphasis on equity consistent with the 10 Essential Public Health Services and the Foundational Capabilities, both of which PHAB led through our innovation division, the Public Health National Center for Innovation (PHNCI). By highlighting equity in the Standards & Measures, and through all our work, health departments can aspire and actively work toward creating equitable conditions to promote and protect their community’s health.

With a focus on building key capacities with an equity lens, accreditation is a means for transforming our governmental health system for all people to live their healthiest, most prosperous lives. We remain committed to this pursuit. Read our full commitment.

Author Profile

Paul Kuehnert
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. Prior to joining PHAB in January 2020, Dr. Kuehnert served as the Associate Vice President for Program at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), the County Health Officer and Executive Director for Health for Kane County, Illinois, and the 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.

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