KANSAS CITY, Mo. — It took three years and reams of documentation, but the Kansas City Health Department has become among the few in the nation to be accredited by a board established two years ago by national health authorities with the goal of improving and standardizing the quality of public health services.
Local officials said Monday that the Public Health Accreditation Board (PHAB) had added Kansas City’s department, along with four others, to the list of accredited agencies.
That brings to 19 the number of departments accredited by the board, out of more than 3,000 public health departments around the country. None of the other accredited departments are in Missouri or Kansas.
The Public Health Accreditation Board is funded by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
CDC and RWJF officials launched the accreditation process two years ago, after more than a decade of development.
Kansas City Health Director Dr. Rex Archer is one of the PHAB directors and also is on the committee that is updating the accreditation standards.
“When you know there are peers coming in and looking you over with a fine-tooth comb,” Archer said, “it puts you on the best of your game.”
Accreditation through the national board has proven somewhat controversial in Kansas.
However, about 60 local health departments, along with the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, are pursuing it.
The Johnson County Department of Health and Environment hopes to submit its application this fall, said spokeswoman Barbara Mitchell.
Accreditation requires meeting 97 measures or standards, Archer said. Each required as many as nine documents to prove compliance.
“Would we have done a lot of this without accreditation? Sure,” Archer said. “But would a lot of health departments be doing this stuff without accreditation? Probably not, and that is part of why we have it out there.”
Archer and Lora Lacey-Haun, co-chair of the Kansas City Health Commission, an advisory body for the mayor and City Council, said the top-to-bottom review of the department prompted a number of improvements, including:
Cutting the average wait time – from four hours to 40 minutes – in the agency’s sexually transmitted disease clinic by separating out patients who simply want a test from those that need more extensive treatment or consultation with a nurse
Moving to a two-year cycle on the community health assessment so that in the off years the department can produce an update on the social determinants of health, such as poverty, education, and violent crime
Development of a strategic plan for the department. “I have always been doing strategic thinking,” Archer said, “but I had not actually laid out a map … to help our staff and partners understand what we are about. Some of my staff is better at reading my mind than others.”
Documenting best practices within the department and improving policies and procedures, such as how to best respond to a food-borne illness outbreak.
Strengthening the department’s commitment to be an academic health department in terms of partnering with area colleges and universities, such as the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Nursing & Health Studies.
Providing better data to the commission, such as comparing life expectancy of residents by City Council districts. “That really helps to give us baseline data on disparities and health inequities in our community,” Lacey-Haun said, “and then that will allow us to really look at outcomes to see what kind of improvements we really are making.”
Lacey-Haun is retiring as the long-time dean of the UMKC School of Nursing & Health Studies, and she said the academic partnership with the department provides excellent public health training to students within the school.
The school includes an undergraduate health sciences program, she said, and students in that discipline also have interned at the health department.
Lacey-Haun said one of the goals is for these students to stay in the community and become part of the public health workforce.
In Johnson County, Mitchell said the department has been working toward accreditation for two years and one of the benefits has been identifying gaps in the codification of policies and procedures.
She said the department has established committees for each of the dozen categories established by the accreditation board.
“Anytime you do a process like that,” Mitchell said, “the creativity tends to flow a little bit more and you get to think of things in a different way and to do them in a different way.”