Six Tips for Sustaining Accreditation

December 05, 2019 | Joanne Pearsol, Susan Ramsey

How are public health agencies in various stages of the Public Health Accreditation Board’s (PHAB) accreditation journey approaching sustainability and reaccreditation?

Initial public health agency accreditation demonstrates that a state, territorial, local, or tribal public health agency has the capacity to provide the 10 Essential Public Health Services, develop and manage an effective health department, and maintain strong communications with the governing entity. Reaccreditation builds upon a health department’s initial accreditation efforts. It focuses on how health departments maintain capacity, ensure accountability, and support continuous quality improvement so that they continue to evolve, improve, and advance.

Working with public health agencies to sustain success and momentum from accreditation and prepare for reaccreditation, we observed six key strategies for success:

1. Celebrate Your Success, but Plan Early

Initial accreditation takes a great deal of energy and resources. Once your health agency becomes accredited, celebrate your success—but begin reaccreditation efforts sooner than later. Within the first six months of achieving accreditation, leaders and staff should begin to utilize their PHAB site visit report to identify opportunities for improvement and begin preparing to submit annual reports of their agency’s progress since initial accreditation.

Planning will be the most important tool that you use in sustaining and preparing for reaccreditation. Whenever you plan, you plan to succeed. Also, remember that things take longer than you think. At a minimum, plan for reaccreditation two years before you are due. Develop and implement a plan that will help you sleep better at night!

Did You Know?

Within the first year it became accredited, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services prepared to maintain staff engagement. The agency created a workplan and annual report survey tool to gather data from staff and compiled insightful responses into an internal resource and posters. The team disseminated these widely to keep staff informed, satisfied, and engaged in the process.

2. Capture Institutional Knowledge

There will be many lessons learned during initial accreditation. Document the people involved and the processes used to achieve success, as the people who are there now may not be later. Key information will include components of initial accreditation, such as funding, staffing, communication strategies, and team responsibilities. When have a record of what worked well or fell flat, what templates you used, and your timeline, you will be better prepared to plan for reaccreditation.

Did You Know?

The Ohio Department of Health tailored ASTHO’s Accreditation Sustainability Plan Template to capture feedback from staff who participated in initial accreditation.

3. Plan for Succession

Unexpected events can leave your organization suddenly susceptible to vacancies in key positions, from the accreditation coordinator to critical contributors. These transitions are never easy, but you can minimize potential negative impacts through succession planning. Engage new people and engage the next generation of workers. View the process as a development opportunity: these individuals will help when there is turnover.

Did You Know?

The Connecticut State Department of Public Health integrated accreditation roles and responsibilities into “succession binders” that help each employee plan for succession and pending retirements. The agency included this as an appendix to its sustainability plan.

4. Invest Time in Reviewing the PHAB Standards and Measures

The PHAB Standards and Measures continue to evolve, and the version used for your initial accreditation likely has changed to reflect the evolving public health landscape. There are differences between initial accreditation, PHAB annual reports, and reaccreditation. Invest time in training staff at all levels of the agency on how to interpret and understand what a measure is asking for and why it is important for developing a highly functioning health department. Reaccreditation provides an opportunity for the public health agency to determine and describe the extent to which it meets the requirements for each measure and how it plans to advance in the areas addressed by the measure.

Did You Know?

The Arizona Department of Health Services created a visual tracking tool in Microsoft Excel to illustrate progress on all reaccreditation requirements by domain. For each requirement, the tool tracks the staff responsible, deadlines, and progression through an internal review process.

5. Communicate Widely, Well, and Often

When pursuing reaccreditation, communicating with staff and partners is important. To plan your communication strategies:

  • Understand your objective. Why are you communicating?
  • Understand your audience. Who are you communicating to? What do they need to know?
  • Plan what you want to say, and how you’ll send the message.
  • Seek feedback on how well your message was received.

When you do this, you will be able to craft a communication plan with messages that your audience will receive positively. Identify who, what, when, where, why and what’s in it for them. Change the language from accreditation‐focused to a framework that uses terms such as standards, improvement, and a high‐ functioning organization.

Did You Know?

The New Jersey Department of Health developed an accreditation awareness campaign that included internal and external communication materials and timelines.

6. Talk to Those Who Have Been There

Leadership, accreditation coordinators, domain leads, and teams can learn from other agencies through the collaborative process that takes place when a PHAB site team evaluates the health agency. For example, getting an objective perspective has helped others health agencies consider how they can demonstrate their success through more intentional and comprehensive measurable outcomes. Ask other jurisdictions who have been through this process about their experiences, what they learned, and what did and did not work well.

Did You Know?

Many jurisdictions are willing to share what they know. The Public Health Performance Improvement Network (phPIN) and my.ASTHO communities facilitate sharing of templates, tools, and innovative thinking.