Communities rely on their public health departments to provide essential services, like vaccines, food safety, disease intervention and prevention, and much more. But the ability of health departments to provide those services, especially during the pandemic, has been stretched due to insufficient workforce, outdated data systems, and decades-long underfunding. We must take this opportunity now to transform the system so that we are more equipped to respond to current and future public health emergencies and keep our communities safe and healthy.
One way to transform the public health system is having a set of national standards to define expectations for all health departments in key areas of public health, such as preparedness, data surveillance, communications, and more. The Public Health Accreditation Board (PHAB) recently released an updated set of Standards & Measures (Version 2022) for health department accreditation and launched the Pathways Recognition program, both of which are based on the Foundational Public Health Services framework. All health departments should be equipped with Foundational Capabilities to serve their communities, and accreditation and Pathways Recognition is an evidence-based way to prove that, and demonstrate accountability and transparency to their communities, elected officials, and others.
Foundational Public Health Services
All communities deserve high functioning health departments that can deliver essential and foundational public health services. The Public Health National Center for Innovations at PHAB is home to the Foundational Public Health Services (FPHS) framework which outlines the unique responsibilities of governmental public health and defines the minimum set of services that must be available in every community. It specifies skills and capacities that health departments must have to serve their communities, like the ability to collect and use data, respond to emergencies, and develop scientifically sound policies. Ensuring health departments can achieve the Foundational Capabilities allows them to affirm, through the PHAB accreditation process, that they meet the basic needs of their communities.
Version 2022 Standards & Measures
The PHAB Standards & Measures were updated earlier this year to Version 2022 to reflect current aspirations in the field, focus on meeting the intent of the measures rather than on documenting it, promote accountability, and clarify requirements. Version 2022 embeds and identifies Foundational Capabilities in the FPHS framework which increases transparency and accountability of accredited health departments.
Version 2022 also comes with updated and streamlined processes that eliminates some barriers to accreditation and makes accreditation more accessible, such as readiness and training support, updated fees, and reduced documentation.
The new Pathways Recognition program is based on a subset of measures in Version 2022, identified as Foundational Capabilities. Pathways Recognition provides tangible progress toward accreditation, objective review of performance by a national, external entity, and assurance that the health department is delivering Foundational Capabilities to their community. For health departments not yet ready to apply for accreditation, Pathways is a viable option to enhance performance improvement efforts.
Health departments need modern tools, active community partnerships, and a well-prepared workforce to protect and promote the health of their communities. Setting standards for public health practice ensures that all communities are receiving foundational public health services that they deserve. It also provides insight into the role of public health departments and what they do for increased accountability and community engagement. Accreditation, Pathways Recognition, and the promotion of the Foundational Capabilities is a way for health departments to show that they can deliver essential services, and continuously improve them for current and future generations.