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Shirley Orr: Accreditation aimed at advancing public health

  • Published Friday, Feb. 15, 2013, at 5:53 p.m.
  • Updated Friday, Feb. 15, 2013, at 5:53 p.m.

In recent days, a few of our elected officials have taken an interest in public health accreditation. This interest is evidenced by Senate Bill 160, which would prohibit Kansas’ public health departments from seeking national accreditation.

While heightened interest in public health improvement among our elected leaders would help to advance the health of our communities, efforts to oppose public health accreditation would do the opposite.

To clarify, the purpose of voluntary health department accreditation is to improve quality and accountability in the public health system. The Public Health Accreditation Board was established in 2007 as a nonprofit entity to implement and oversee a national public health department accreditation program that:

•  Promotes high performance and continuous quality improvement.

•  Recognizes high performers that meet nationally accepted standards of quality and improvement.

•  Illustrates health department accountability to the public and policymakers.

•  Increases the visibility and public awareness of governmental public health, leading to greater public trust and increased health department credibility.

•  Clarifies the public’s expectations of health departments.

A few policymakers have expressed concern that PHAB accreditation potentially would conflict with or challenge local and state public health statutes and authority. The opposite is true. PHAB standards support the existing laws and public health authority of the jurisdiction served by the health department.

National standards and accreditation of public services provided by government are not new concepts. For many years, police and fire departments, as well as emergency medical services departments, have been involved in national accreditation. After years of deliberations and planning, health department accreditation has come about as the result of an open, thoughtful process that incorporated input from a wide range of public health professionals and crucial stakeholders.

Here in Kansas and nationwide, our local, state and tribal health departments are working together and collaborating with community partners to improve the quality of services they provide. National public health department accreditation is the driver of this systemwide focus on quality improvement. Communities served by an accredited health department will benefit through more consistent, effective public health services that prevent disease and promote and protect health. Policymakers and the public should support our health departments in this effort.

Shirley Orr of Wichita is the immediate past president of the Kansas Public Health Association.

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