Politics & Government

Sedgwick County commissioners clash in Topeka over bill on health accreditation

Sedgwick County Commissioner Richard Ranzau clashed with Gov. Sam Brownback’s administration Monday over a bill that would block county and state health departments from seeking national accreditation.

Speaking on behalf of himself and Commissioner Karl Peterjohn, Ranzau said national health accreditation efforts have ties to the federal government and a nonprofit that supported the Affordable Care Act, and he said it may be a way to gain control of local healthcare decisions.

“This is not about quality of performance, this is about control,” he said.

But Brownback’s secretary of health and environment, Robert Moser, joined Sedgwick County and several other health organizations in saying accreditation helps ensure strong health standards that can help county health departments improve and become more efficient.

The debate comes in reaction to Senate Bill 160, which Wichita Republican Sen. Michael O’Donnell introduced last week. It would prevent local and state health departments from seeking accreditation through the nonprofit Public Health Accreditation Board. Many of the departments, including Sedgwick County and the state, have already invested significantly in hopes of being accredited.

“Accreditation at the state and local health department level gives a reasonable assurance of the range of public health services a department provides,” Moser said in testimony to the Senate Committee on Public Health and Welfare. “It is a mechanism for health departments to ensure accountability for the use of the resources they receive.”

O’Donnell said he had questions about how the relatively new accreditation process could lead to more control exerted by the federal government.

After overwhelming opposition to the bill, including from KDHE, O’Donnell said he no longer has concerns and doesn’t support the move to ban accreditation.

Topeka Democratic Sen. Laura Kelly said the debate seemed like an intra-county spat that had been brought to the Legislature to resolve. “I always felt it was a bad way to do business,” she said.

“We have two different viewpoints,” Ranzau said. “But this is not about a spat that we want to get solved here. This is about protecting the taxpayer, protecting the sovereignty of the state of Kansas and deciding who gets to control the health departments.”

Commissioner Tim Norton said he drove to Topeka just to testify on the county’s behalf in opposition to the bill. He said lawmakers’ questions about the process probably could have been handled with a phone call instead of legislation and a public hearing on the bill.

“I believe in accreditation,” he said. “And I believe the time has come nationally and certainly in the state of Kansas… to move forward with accreditation.”