A bill to prohibit county health departments from seeking accreditation has been introduced by Sen. Michael O'Donnell, a Wichita Republican.
At least 12 Kansas health departments have been working for months on becoming nationally accredited and it wasn't immediately clear why O'Donnell, a freshman, would seek to slow or impede the process.
O'Donnell declined to comment to KHI News Services about Senate Bill 160, other than to say his concerns with accreditation were "relatively new."
"It's widespread concerns that many people have had. I will definitely comment on it later, but right now let's have a hearing first," O'Donnell said.
The bill has been referred to the Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee but has yet to be scheduled for a hearing.
Accreditation through the non-profit Public Health Accreditation Board, a national organization, is voluntary, though most local health officials expect that in the near future departments that want federal funding will need to be accredited to receive the aid.
Officials at the board say accreditation is designed to improve and standardize services available at agencies across the nation.
Michelle Ponce, executive director of the Kansas Association of Local Health Departments, said she was surprised by O'Donnell's bill.
"I really don't know what precipitated this bill or what the senator's concerns are with accreditation," she said. "We would very much welcome an opportunity to discuss any potential concerns, or questions about the process, or why we feel accreditation is a positive goal for health departments in Kansas. Public health accreditation is fairly new. Accreditation itself is not — hospitals are accredited, even jails and zoos are accredited. Accreditation is very simply a process by which we can measure the quality of our health departments."
To be accredited, health departments must demonstrate that they meet PHAB's standards and measures. The months-long process starts with a locally conducted assessment of community health needs. County health departments then use the assessment to craft a community health improvement plan.
Testimony: Dr. Robert Moser on the senate bill to ban public health accreditation
Of the state's 99 local health departments at least 12 are working toward accreditation, including eight counties that are applying together as a region: Chase, Coffey, Franklin, Greenwood, Lyon, Morris, Osage, and Waubunsee.
Johnson, Sedgwick, Wyandotte, and the Lawrence-Douglas County health departments have made "significant progress," toward accreditation Ponce said.
The Kansas Department of Health and Environment is also working toward accreditation as the state health department.
An online tool with resources that — among other things — can be used to help with the accreditation process was launched last January. The site —kansashealthmatters.org — is the product of an 18-month collaboration involving the Kansas Health Institute, KDHE, the hospital and local health department associations, the Kansas Health Foundation, the Kansas Association for the Medically Underserved, and the United Way.
The Public Health Accreditation Board (PHAB) is a nonprofit organization that regulates new quality and service standards for tribal, state, local, and territorial public health departments.
To be accredited, health departments must demonstrate that they meet PHAB's Standards and Measures.
Before applying for accreditation, departments must first meet three prerequisites:
• Perform a community health assessment, which typically is a 12- to 18-month process of collecting broad community input about the health of the population. The National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO) suggests four surveys that collect health data, health services information, projections for changes in community demographics or the economy, and the community's primary characteristics.
• Use the assessment to craft a community health improvement plan, which is another months-long process bringing together public health officials, health providers, local government officials and other community leaders to build a plan that addresses problems identified by the assessment.
• Create a strategic plan, which focuses on how the local health department will address the identified problems during a five-year period.
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