Case Study

PHAB Accreditation: Curious to Committed

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Four paper cut-outs with question marks in shades of brown, cream, and pink

The Challenge: To help a “PHAB-curious” local health department weigh the costs and benefits of accreditation.

The Background: A local health department sought consulting support to explore accreditation with the Public Health Accreditation Board (PHAB). Rather than committing to the full accreditation process, this county wanted to know if accreditation was a realistic prospect ­– or if the investment would be too great, given its state of readiness. The project was framed within the existing budget line for organizational development.

Our Work: Given the emphasis on organizational development, Ascendient created a work plan designed to help the county develop its internal readiness and awareness, regardless of the ultimate decision on accreditation. We used the PHAB standards as an objective yardstick for measuring the department’s strengths and weaknesses.

Benchmarking against PHAB is not necessarily simple or straightforward. The official guidelines run 350 pages, encompassing:

  • 10 domains
  • 20 standards
  • 87 measures

On one hand, the sheer scope of the process may discourage some departments from getting started. On the other hand, PHAB standards are comprehensive and evidence-based, so using them for organizational development ensures against blind spots or bias.

Take strategic planning, for instance. Every health department has a strategic plan of some sort, but PHAB has clear and specific requirements for process, outputs, integration, and implementation. There are similar standards for five other types of plans and assessments:

  • Community Health Assessment
  • Community Health Improvement Plan
  • Quality Improvement Plan
  • Workforce Development Plan
  • Performance Management Planning

Because we have a 30-year track record in all types of healthcare planning, Ascendient was able to offer the county an in-depth review of all its current plans, along with a gap analysis to highlight key shortcomings relative to PHAB requirements.

We supplemented that analysis with a comprehensive action plan and timeline for attaining accreditation, if the county decided to go that route. But if not, our final report could still be used in setting goals and priorities for internal improvement.

The beauty of benchmarking against PHAB was that the county could be confident we weren’t “selling” anything. If the county decided to prioritize workforce development or quality improvement, that decision would be based on objective, national standards and best practices.

The Outcome: Armed with our detailed assessment, the county decided to move ahead with accreditation. Leaders were comfortable with the timeline and personnel costs, and confident that they knew how to close the gaps between PHAB expectations and current realities.

It doesn’t always work out that way, however.

Some clients take our work and decide to focus on internal improvements without the external validation of accreditation – and that’s fine. No money is wasted because we designed the engagement to advance organizational development goals regardless of the ultimate decision on accreditation.

One advantage of PHAB is that it provides a kind of national “gold standard” for quality, professionalism, and organizational development. Whether or not a department is actively pursuing accreditation, PHAB domains offer a systematic, evidence-based map for improvement.

By designing an organizational development engagement that is fully aligned with the PHAB standards, we allow LHDs to pinpoint exactly where they are on that map.

The Takeaway: Rather than plunging headfirst into a long and expensive accreditation process, some local health departments may want to test the waters with a low-risk assessment. By folding that assessment into ongoing organizational development efforts, the whole process becomes more intentional, holistic, and cost effective.

Are you curious about PHAB accreditation? Our data-driven assessment can help you decide.

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