The Tooele County Health Department announced Wednesday that it has become the first health department in the state of Utah to achieve national accreditation.
The accreditation process, which is administered by the Public Health Accreditation Board (PHAB), is intended to identify high-performing health departments that focus on using data and other evidence-based mechanisms to determine and meet the needs of the areas they serve.
Once accredited, these health departments must continue to file annual progress reports to PHAB, and must undergo re-evaluation every five years to maintain accreditation status.
The county health department began working toward accreditation five years ago, said Myron Bateman, Tooele County Health Department director. It was one of 19 health departments that participated in PHAB’s initial beta evaluation in 2009.
After the review, Bateman said the department decided that accreditation would be a boon to the community, and began making the improvements necessary to meet accreditation standards. The health department officially applied for accreditation in May 2012.
National accreditation for health departments is a relatively new thing. PHAB, an independent Virginia-based nonprofit dedicated to improving state and local health departments throughout the U.S., began offering accreditation in 2011.
Since then, 22 U.S. health departments have met the criteria and made it through the evaluation process.
Though it was unclear as of press time whether Tooele County is health department 23 — PHAB can announce the accreditation of any number of health departments at the same time — it is the first health department in Utah to achieve accredited status.
Both Salt Lake and Davis county health departments have applied for accreditation, but neither was far enough into the evaluation process to be included in this round of announcements.
Jeff Coombs, deputy director of the Tooele County Health Department, said the department was “excited and thrilled” by the accredited designation. Likewise, the announcement has provided a morale boost for department staff, Bateman said.
“It gives more meaning to their jobs,” he said. “It helps staff to feel energetic when they can work toward a goal and see success.”
Additionally, achieving national accreditation should help the department obtain grant funding, Bateman said. Grants currently cover about 90 percent of the health department’s operating costs, he said. The department would like to find additional funds to carry out a hypothetical health assessment study to determine how the relocation of the state prison to the area might affect residents’ health.
These kinds of evaluations are necessary to maintain accredited status, Bateman said, and will help to improve the health of residents by determining the actual needs of the community.
“By doing assessments, you identify the community’s true needs,” he said, “and can direct your resources appropriately.”