Public Health Accreditation: Why? A conversation with Alejandro Queral
In March 2012, Northwest Health Foundation announced a grant opportunity to support public health accreditation efforts at county and tribal health departments.
Alejandro Queral, NWHF program officer, sat down with public health consultant Craig Mosbaek to talk about public health accreditation and this grant opportunity.
Craig Mosbaek: What’s the benefit of accreditation for public health departments?
Alejandro Queral: One of the main benefits is quality assurance – the ability to tell public officials and the community you serve that the health department is meeting high standards for improving population health, and that it is doing so in a more efficient way.
Accreditation ensures that health departments are tailoring their efforts to the needs and values of the community and using promising and evidence-based practices to promote health. The standards ensure that a health department is addressing community-wide health and therefor embracing health equity.
CM: This is the second round of funding NWHF has made available to health departments around accreditation. Why is accreditation important to NWHF?
AQ: We all want a first class public health system. Accreditation helps assure communities that their local health department is functioning at a high level. A practical factor – and I think the writing is on the wall – is that accreditation will likely be a requirement for certain funding opportunities from national organizations.
The Foundation also sees this as an opportunity to have better integration between the health care delivery system and public health. For example, health departments applying for accreditation and non-profit hospitals seeking to keep their non-profit status are both required to conduct Community Health Assessments and Community Health Improvement Plans. We hope to encourage collaboration on these and other community projects that will ultimately result in better health for everyone.
CM: Why does this grant opportunity refer to Coordinated Care Organizations (CCOs)?
AQ: The only way to realize the goal of a healthier population is to have a robust healthcare delivery system along with effective population-based approaches to improving health. CCOs are the new organizational unit for the healthcare delivery system in Oregon.
The CCOs are starting now by serving the Oregon Health Plan [Medicaid] population, but this will expand to include public employees and, at some point in the future, a majority of Oregonians. In some areas around the state, health departments are taking an active role in the formation of CCOs. Healthcare systems are very familiar with the concept of accreditation, so an accredited health department will be seen as one that can deliver high quality services.
We recognize that health departments are working at capacity and are strained for resources. Working with CCOs can be an opportunity to think of different ways to deliver services and explore innovative financing models.
CM: Tribal health departments can apply for this NWHF grant. What are the benefits of accreditation for tribal health departments in Oregon?
AQ: The main benefits are the same for local and tribal health departments — quality assurance and access to funding resources. The Public Health Accreditation Board (PHAB) worked with tribal groups to make sure that the accreditation standards were appropriate for tribal health departments. The Northwest Portland Area Indian Health Board (NWPAIHB) has an accreditation manager to help tribal health departments with the process. And, Joe Finkbonner, Executive Director of the NWPAIHB, is on the Board of Directors for PHAB.
CM: NWHF is also offering a Learning Collaborative, consisting of the health departments that receive these new grants. What do you think the health departments can learn from each other in this process?
AQ: Public health accreditation and CCOs are both new processes, so everyone seems to be in learning mode. Health departments can learn from each other about planning and prioritization strategies and tools that will help them develop and implement more robust quality improvement processes. The process of accreditation is full of technical details around reports and documentation and NWHF will provide some technical assistance to our grantees, but a Learning Collaborative will help with that. We are thinking of opening up the Learning Collaborative to all health departments, not just our grantees.
CM: Closing thoughts for people working in a health department on the fence about applying for this grant?
AQ: One of the benefits of this grant opportunity is that health departments will have some flexibility on how the money can be spent. Our hope is that this opportunity will help local health departments move forward with accreditation while also playing an active role in the health care transformation process in Oregon.
“Accreditation helps assure communities that their local health department is functioning at a high level. A practical factor – and I think the writing is on the wall – is that accreditation will likely be a requirement for certain funding opportunities from national organizations.” -Alejandro Queral