Project Description

“The PHAB accreditation process initiated a monumental shift in the way that Garrett County approached community engagement and fostered a flourishing culture of innovation for Garrett County, Maryland.”

Accreditation Process Initiates ‘Monumental Shift’ for Garrett County Health Department’s Aproach to Community Engagement

By Shelley Argabrite and John Corbin

What if one simple process could change the way an entire community collaborates and works across sectors to enhance its culture of health? The Public Health Accreditation Board (PHAB) accreditation process initiated a monumental shift in the way that Garrett County approached community engagement and fostered a flourishing culture of innovation for Garrett County, Maryland. Accreditation is vastly more than following a set of requirements and checking off boxes, rather it is a definitive process enabling a community to reevaluate its methods, ideologies, and approaches to determine if systems are operating collaboratively. Prior to this process, our community lacked dedicated population health planning staff, and the means to effectively and efficiently communicate with all stakeholders, regardless of background or composition. Accreditation for Garrett County is the living embodiment of our commitment to quality and service to all who live, work, and play in our beautiful mountain community.

As we began working through the accreditation process it became apparent that investing in a dedicated health planner was critical to improve processes and ensure measurement of incremental health improvements were recorded to comply with the high standards set by PHAB. Once our community was able to recruit a Strategic Health Planner, Shelley Argabrite, our possibilities of community engagement began to expand. Shelley’s passion for equity, reinforced by the PHAB accreditation framework, gave rise to an innovative concept centered around the most vital question that any public health agency must ask – are we making a difference? And better yet, are we making a difference for those who need it most. Those who aren’t served by the status quo. Who sacrifice the most, but receive the least. And does everyone truly have the same opportunity to thrive in our community?

The answer, – a dramatic shift in the way that our county conducts community planning and implements strategies to improve health for Garrett County residents. How did we do it? The health planner hired a talented public affairs specialist, John Corbin, and together they became application designer and developer and built a platform that changed everything. This tool, now released as open source software under the sponsorship of the Public Health National Center for Innovations, a division of PHAB, and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, has fundamentally transformed how our community approaches inclusion in the interest of all and is being replicated in communities across the nation.

The Universal Community Planning Tool is intended to help communities create a local, data-informed vision from their current needs by meaningfully and transparently engaging all residents. This vision becomes actionable through the UCPT framework providing the platform for the creation of a comprehensive & responsive community health improvement plan. Demonstrating high-performance through accountability and credibility is an especially important element for health departments initially seeking or maintaining public health accreditation and is essential to sustaining a robust public health system that is responsive to the needs of all residents.

The UCPT framework guides stakeholders through the process of creating a measurement framework to ensure alignment between specific strategies and the metrics collected to improve health. This approach to hyper local data collection becomes the primary method of program attribution. Meaningful, transparent measurements help communities by offering realistic data points, the power is in the equitable approach taken to promote change together!

Garrett County Health Department in Oakland, Maryland, was awarded national accreditation through the Public Health Accreditation Board on November 15, 2016.

About the authors:  Shelley Argabrite, MA, is Strategic Health Planner, and John Corbin is Public Affairs Specialist, at Garrett County Health Department in Oakland, Maryland. Contact them at [email protected] and [email protected].

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

  • Enhanced communication and engagement in quality improvement efforts

  • Increased interest in performance metrics and data analysis throughout the department

  • Identification of new areas of interest in staff training and professional development

  • Greater visibility and recognition of public health initiatives