Ensuring basic public health services
Editor’s note: This is the third of a three-part series exploring the role of health departments in Washington, Henry and Jefferson counties. The third part explores the future role of health departments from the perspective of the Iowa Department of Public Health.
Iowa Department of Public Health modernization coordinator Joy Harris said the push in the state to bring “modernization” to local health departments will still leave the main decisions regarding individual public policy to the individual board of health, but will ensure basic services will be available to all Iowans.
She said the process doesn’t deal as much with facilities as it does with the role health departments will play in the future and the quality of its work force. Harris said “modernization” is the term used for a set of standards developed by the Iowa Department of Public Health (IDPH) to ensure every Iowan has access to the same basic public health services. She said the voluntary procedure for ensuring each county health department meets the standards is called “accreditation.” The accrediting process focuses on 11 component areas to ensure the health department is providing the services required. At least 21 other states also have a voluntary modernization process. She said the IDPH has only just begun the basic process in December 2009 and no health department is accredited yet. The Public Health Modernization Act was approved in 2009. The application process will begin Jan. 2, 2012. The IDPH has had an ongoing effort to collaborate with local health departments since 2004.
“Local health departments make their own decision on the best ways of how public health can be delivered,” Harris said. “Accreditation is all about assuring all services in a jurisdiction.”
She stressed that the accreditation process was voluntary at the county level, but she felt in the future there would be incentives such as special grant opportunities for accredited departments. She said services can be shared between health departments for the accreditation process, if the provision of service could be assured. Harris also said a national accreditation system is being considered.
The standards are divided into 11 component areas, she explained. The first six deal with the infrastructure needed to deliver public health service. They include: governance; administration; communication and information technology; work force; community assessment and planning; and evaluation. The remaining five components deal with public service standards and include: prevention of epidemics and the spread of disease; protection against environmental hazards; prevention of injuries; promoting healthy behavior; and preparation for, responding to, and recovery from public health emergencies. Specific requirements of each component are available on the Iowa Department of Public Health Web site.
Harris said that the accreditation process was based on business models rather than government models to ensure quality improvement in the departments. She said the process explores everyday practices of the departments and seeks to find ways to streamline public health offerings.
Linda Albright, Henry County Public Health administrator, said her department hadn’t gone through the state tool to determine how close the department is to being in compliance.
“The biggest thing is how you prove that you are meeting the benchmarks and standards,” Albright said. “The tricky part is proving you have met the guidelines. The struggle is documentation and an efficient way to maintain documentations that we have met standards.”
Chris Estle-Tedrow, director of Jefferson County Health Department, said of the accreditation process simply that she didn’t know if it would happen.
For more, see our Nov. 30 print edition.