Three Rivers earns national accreditation

-A A +A
By Jeff Moore

Three Rivers District Health Department is one of the first 11 in the nation to receive national accreditation.

The Public Health Accreditation Board recently awarded the status to the district, which operates health departments in Carroll, Gallatin, Owen and Pendleton counties.

Three Rivers District Director Dr. Georgia Heise said work began on the new national accreditation process about 10 years ago. Officials with the health district knew before the process was formalized that it was a goal they wanted to achieve.

“This is a truly historic moment in public health,” PHAB President and CEO Kaye Bender, PhD, RN, FAAN, said. “With accreditation, we now have national standards that promote continuous quality improvement for public health and a mechanism for recognizing high performing public health departments.”

The health departments, including Three Rivers, also won praise from the CDE for their achievement.

“Just as schools, hospitals, and law enforcement agencies do, health departments can use the accreditation process to improve services and better protect health. We look forward to the day when most people in this country are served by accredited health departments,” CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden said.

Heise said they started working on it before public health districts could apply. When it was announced, Three Rivers was ready.

“Accreditation is a playbook of how to run a health department,” she said. The standards set for public health departments offer them a way to operate, as well as a way to focus on quality improvement.

Heise said health departments face a “fine line” between the policy issues they are charged with and the clinical offerings they provide.

This process allowed them to examine policies and begin making the transition to focus on them.

“The accreditation process has helped us ensure that the programs and services we provide are as responsive as possible to the needs of our communities,” Heise said. “With accreditation, Three Rivers is demonstrating increased accountability and credibility to our public, funders, elected officials and partner organizations.”

At Tuesday’s Carroll County Fiscal Court meeting, Judge-Executive Harold “Shorty” Tomlinson praised the health district for its work on the accreditation process..

Tomlinson, a member of the district board of health, said he participated in a half-day portion of the review process. “It’s quite an honor for the health department to be in a position to get that done,” he  said.

The national program, jointly supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, aims to improve and protect the health of the public by advancing the quality and performance of public health departments. The 11 awarded accreditation — three of them from Kentucky — are first among hundreds preparing to seek this national status.

Heise said the Three Rivers District board was involved and supportive throughout the process.

Pendleton County Judge-Executive Henry Bertram, Three Rivers Board of Health chairman, said: “Whenever you see our seal of accreditation, you know that Three Rivers has been rigorously examined and meets or exceeds national standards that promote continuous quality improvement for public health,”

PHAB officials said public health departments play a critical role in protecting and improving the health of people and communities. Health departments in each locality provide a range of services aimed at promoting healthy behaviors; preventing diseases and injuries; ensuring access to safe food, water, clean air, and life-saving immunizations; and preparing for and responding to health emergencies.

The accreditation process also allowed officials across the health district to look at what they do not have set up and how they can help solve problems.

Covering a four-county area helped the district through the accreditation, as it does in many other ways.

“The economies of scale” with four county health departments provide those in the district to draw and share resources with each other. It also allows them to draw on the experience of the staff across the district.

Each district also has its own identity and works on specific issues facing their particular community, such as smoking, car wrecks or teen pregnancy. This is accomplished through each county’s health and safety partnership, Heise said.

Even though the district has received its five-year accreditation, the process is ongoing, she said. The district has a cycle that it goes through to access needs of the communities every three to five years.

Heise said they will soon begin another assessment looking at the statistics, talking with people and using this information to develop another plan. This process will point “to what we need to address,” she said.

The needs assessment and accreditation processes allow the health district to look at things they are doing well, things they aren’t and problems that arise and need their attention.

While the initial accreditation was a “snapshot” of where the district is, PHAB will review items in the plan to determine “Did they do it and did it work,” she said.

Heise said some of the issues public health faces are tough ones because they deal with personal choice and chronic disease. These range from diabetes and cancer to obesity and tobacco use.

“The accreditation process helps to ensure that the programs and services that health departments provide are as responsive as possible to the needs of the communities they serve,” said Carol Moehrle, MD, chair of PHAB’s board of directors.

Heise said she and staff members at the health district and its departments are proud of their accomplishment. She said local people are getting calls from people at health departments across the state who hold the same position there wanting to know how they accomplished what they did through accreditation.


The following 11 health departments received accreditation:

· Comanche County Health Department, Lawton, Okla.

· Franklin County Health Department, Frankfort, Ky.

· Livingston County Department of Health, Mt. Morris, N.Y.

· Northern Kentucky Independent District Health Department, Edgewood, Ky.

· Oklahoma City-County Health Department, Oklahoma City, Okla.

· Oklahoma State Department of Health, Oklahoma City, Okla.

· Spokane Regional Health District, Spokane, Wash.

· The Public Health Authority of Cabarrus County, Inc. d/b/a Cabarrus Health Alliance, Kannapolis, N.C.

· Three Rivers District Health Department, Owenton, Ky.

· Washington State Department of Health, Olympia, Wash.

· West Allis Health Department, West Allis, Wisc.