Project Description

cascade city health dept logo

“Formalizing our documentation process allowed us to back-up/prove what we were saying for years and provide evidence to our staff, stakeholders, and our community”

Accreditation Journey Leads to Better Documentation and Transparency at Cascade City County Health Department

By Melanie McKinzie Swartz

For Cascade City-County Health Department (CCHD), the most impactful area of change due to going through the accreditation process has been the comparison/use of the PHAB Standards and Measures to identify the strengths and weaknesses of our agency.

As CCHD began the document submission process, strengths and weaknesses became quickly evident through the process of self-assessment against the standards and measures.  Feedback during the site visit and hearing from outside sources with expertise and knowledge provided affirmation that our health department was doing some things very well, but included acknowledgement of room for growth. The site visit helped our agency look at detailed pieces of our day-to-day operations. One specific change that came from the site visit and report was the development of a quality improvement (QI) team and formalization of the QI plan. Another major change was the formalization of documentation across the board, not just for the sake of accreditation, but for measurement, transparency, and the benefit of the organization.

Documentation impacts our funding, shows our data, and is evidence of the valuable work we do at the health department. Formalizing our documentation process allowed us to back-up/prove what we were saying for years and provide evidence to our staff, stakeholders, and our community. Another specific change was looking at the administrative processes in place that we took for granted. The accreditation process made us look internally and realize the need to have protocols and procedures for consistency and quality.

As we worked through the accreditation process, we became impressed with our areas of strengths and proud of our accomplishments. One place we were doing well was within our regulatory programs like communicable disease, restaurant inspections, and PHEP. Being a small health department, we rely on the state and neighboring counties and partners to carry out our work. We effectively administer these programs through these collaborative relationships.  The sense of accomplishment of what we do well gave the agency the knowledge, opportunity, awareness, and drive to identify and evaluate our weaknesses more critically along with the motivation to improve areas of weakness and tools necessary to be effective.

Cascade City-County Health Department in Great Falls, Montana, was awarded national accreditation through the Public Health Accreditation Board on February 20, 2018.

About the author: Melanie McKinzie Swartz is Office and Accreditation Coordinator at Cascade City-County Health Department in Great Falls, Montana. Contact her at [email protected].

Other benefits gained as a result of going through the accreditation process:

  • Encouraged us to step outside of our comfort zone and begin working to incorporate data-gathering, analysis, and interpretation as part of our work.

  • Helped us understand the importance of demonstrating through documentation that we are “walking the walk.”

  • Assisted in our ability to identify gaps in our services or programs and provided resources and structure for helping us identify those gaps.

  • Led to the reinforcement of partnerships within and outside of our agency.

  • Brought about public recognition of what public health is, does, and why it is important.

  • Made us think outside the box and connect with the community in new ways to improve our services.

  • Generates a high level of comfort in transparency and accountability to our community, both financially and programmatically.

  • Enhances our ability to recruit qualified students.

  • Enhances the ability of our programs to seek/obtain external funding.

  • Establishes clear expectations about skills and competencies for staff.

  • Provides a framework for setting priorities.

  • Challenges our agency to assess its roles and responsibilities and how to fulfill them. By doing so, quality and performance improvement of the agency is stimulated.

  • Demonstrates the capacity to which our agency is able to demonstrate the 10 Essential Public Health Services.