Public health departments have put together a voluntary national accreditation system to hold themselves accountable to the public. The director of Tarrant County Public Health explains why the designation’s important.
Formed by former and current members of the health community, the Public Health Accreditation Board (PHAB) describes itself as “a nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing the continuous quality improvement of tribal, state, local, and territorial public health departments.”
The idea is “to check the performance of your health department against some national standards that are evidence-based and practice-focused,” says Vinny Taneja, director of Tarrant County Public Health, “and to bring standardization to public health so you can be assured they are providing the highest level of care.”
Taneja said the accreditation process pointed out the agency’s strengths, but also its weaknesses. Some needed simple fixes such as addiing a two-handled handset to a language line to better translate information for WIC applicants who don’t speak English.
Others required more effort through partnerships, such as addressing a food desert by changing ordinances to allow push cart vendors and mobile vendors sell fresh produce in neighborhoods that had no grocery stores.
Taneja said the end result, in addition to meeting national standards, was a process that “helps you create that dialog with your governing entity, create the dialog with your public that you’re serving, and listen to all aspects and try to address issues that are in our community.”
Transparency: "The idea was to make a conscious effort to put out our information and our data on to our public website to make sure it’s easily accessible for anyone who asks for it, whether it’s university researchers, students or community members in general, so it’s very transparent what your local department is doing. What that does is it starts conversations about topics that need attention of more than just public health."
Public perception of TCPH: "People view the health department based on their experience with health. Some people thought, these are the people who do the restaurant inspection. Some people thought, these are the people who give me WIC benefits. So part of this is branding Tarrant County Public Health as a trusted health resource in the community. We’re there to help improve and protect the health of the public. hospitals and doctors give you services when you have an illness. Public health people are also looking at policy decisions and other prevention resources so you don’t get ill in the first place."
Any surprises in the PHAB process? "There weren’t any surprises, but they did have some deficiencies that they noted. One of them was communicating with your governing body and letting them make an informed decision. We had a policy that was passed at the state level related mother-friendly workplaces. So when this deficiency was noted, we took this to our commissioner’s court and they adopted it as a county policy. So in the county buildings now we have a lactation room available. And the idea is when the commissioner’s court can set a good example as a workplace, hopefully other businesses can follow and have that available."