Clark County health department seeking accreditation

Agency's aim is to become more efficient

By Marissa Harshman, Columbian health reporter

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Clark County Public Health is beginning the two-year process to become an accredited health organization.

The accreditation process will measure the county health department's policies, procedures and performance against nationally recognized, evidence-based standards, said Dr. Alan Melnick, Clark County Public Health administrator and health officer.

"The idea is to become more efficient and make sure we're adhering to national best-practice standards," Melnick said. "It's a good thing to do."

The process will also enhance transparency and encourage accountability, Melnick said, because the public will be able to see how the department works to meet standards.

Obtaining accreditation will also bolster health department applications for grant funding. As the number of accredited departments increases nationwide, not having accreditation could actually hurt the county department's chances of obtaining funding, Melnick said.

The voluntary accreditation program is administered by the Public Health Accreditation Board, an independent, nonprofit organization. The goal of the program is to improve and protect the health of the public by advancing the quality and performance of health departments across the country.

The accreditation program launched in September 2011. The first accreditations went to 11 departments in March 2013, including Spokane Regional Health District and the Washington State Department of Health.

To date, 44 health jurisdictions have received accreditation, and another 255 departments are somewhere in the accreditation process. There are more than 3,000 health departments in the U.S.

Of the 35 health jurisdictions in Washington, only the state and Spokane County departments have received accreditation.

In Oregon, only Deschutes County Health Services in Bend and the Marion County Health Department in Salem have received accreditation. The health departments in Washington and Clackamas counties are in the process of obtaining accreditation, Melnick said.

The accreditation process, which should take about two years to complete, will require the department to provide thorough documentation of internal processes to demonstrate it follows best practices. The accreditation board also will conduct a site visit and provide recommendations for areas of improvement, Melnick said.

If granted, accreditation lasts for five years and requires the county department to submit annual reports to maintain accreditation. The cost to the department for accreditation over the five years is about $30,000 — about $12,000 of which is paid in the first year. That figure does not include county staff time.