The Tooele County Health Department may become the first of its kind in the state to earn national accreditation—an honor that could qualify the department, local schools and other organizations for increased grant money.
Community and health department leaders met with visiting representatives from the Public Health Accreditation Board (PHAB) Wednesday afternoon to discuss the health department’s role and perceived quality in the community.
The trio of site visitors arrived Monday and spent most of Tuesday evaluating the health department’s capabilities. When they return home, they will submit a final report to the accreditation board, which will either approve or deny Tooele’s application in February.
National accreditation for health departments is a relatively new thing. PHAB, a Virginia-based nonprofit dedicated to improving state and local health departments throughout the U.S., began offering accreditation in 2011.
Since then, just 19 U.S. health departments have met the criteria and made it through the seven-step accreditation process. So far, no Utah health department has achieved accreditation, though both Salt Lake and Davis County health departments have also begun the process.
Accreditation would not only make it easier for the health department to find additional funding through grants, but would also set up Tooele’s health department as a model for other Utah health departments that hope to pursue accreditation.
Myron Bateman, Tooele Health Department executive director, said the department has already qualified for grants just because it has initiated the accreditation process
“This is us jumping ahead and being on the forefront of public health,” he said.
The accreditation process does require various assessments, lengthy reports and site evaluations, but Bateman said the health department has tried to complete these tasks within regular hours, to keep expenses low. He estimated that accreditation would cost about $4,000 per year, most of which would come out of grant money.
Multiple community leaders attended Wednesday’s meeting to speak about the health department’s capabilities, including Lavern Snow, a performance improvement manager with the state health department. Snow said she believed the local health department deserved accreditation on account of its dedication to quality services and collaboration with the community.
“I want to speak to the leadership and vision of the Tooele County Health Department,” Snow told PHAB visitors. “They help us set the standard for our state.”
Snow said she has worked with the local health department for 30 years, and although small, it has never used its size as an excuse for poor performance.
Wade Mathews, manager for the State Division of Emergency Management “Be Ready Utah” program, said he appreciated having a local health department that was eager to address the community’s needs.
“They feel more like friends and neighbors, rather than a higher government agency that doesn’t really know our needs,” he said.
Site visitors from the PHAB said they were generally impressed by the number of community partners who attended the meeting.
“A lot of times we have 10, maybe 15 partners,” Bob Lutz told community representatives. “I feel like I have an audience, like I’m on stage.”
The Tooele County Health Department was one of 19 health departments initially selected to participate in a beta version of the accreditation process when PHAB first announced its intentions, Bateman said. Going through the beta allows the health department to identify areas where it could improve—areas the health department has focused on for the last two years.
Accreditation would force the health department to seriously consider its services once every five years, which would ultimately result in more effective, research-backed services for the community, he said.
“We decided we wanted to get that good information—data—to address real health concerns,” Bateman added.