Accreditation Sparks New Opportunities for Community Engagement in Los Angeles County
By Donna Sze, MPH
With over 10 million residents in Los Angeles County, it can be challenging to ensure that all voices are elevated. Community partnerships have always been an essential departmental function, but public health accreditation has pushed us to deepen and expand those efforts.
When we began to prepare for accreditation several years ago, we sized ourselves up against the PHAB Standards and Measures and recognized that the pre-requisites would challenge us to do things a little differently and to engage with our communities, partners, and stakeholders in new ways.
Prior to accreditation, our department regularly assessed the health of the community through the Los Angeles County Health Survey (LACHS), which has been recognized by NACCHO as a model practice. To meet accreditation standards and expand community involvement, we invited residents and member organizations to review the LACHS findings, share their own data, and ultimately weigh in on what indicators should be included in the CHA. Los Angeles County’s CHA was thus developed through a collaborative process with representatives of over 60 hospitals, clinics, community-based organizations, coalitions, and other sectors.
The CHA then served as a foundation for the CHIP. Via a series of regional and county-wide meetings, almost 400 organizations contributed to the CHIP’s development. This process was unprecedented in its scope and created new opportunities for community members to weigh in on a range of public health issues. Additionally, the Board of Supervisors created a Community Prevention and Population Task Force by appointing 25 public health leaders to guide the county’s community health planning efforts. The release of the CHIP also sparked new projects and partnerships, including a cross-sector collaboration to eliminate exposure to hazardous chemicals associated with urban oil-drilling in low-income communities.
Our department was accredited in March 2017. Since then, we have continued to prioritize direct community involvement in our planning and response activities. For example: a former battery recycling facility operated for many years in southeast Los Angeles County without the correct state permits, releasing various harmful toxic chemicals into the air. Although the facility was permanently closed in 2015, the soil in the surrounding communities remains contaminated with high levels of lead. In June 2017, our department initiated a large-scale community/county outreach event to talk with residents who live in the 21,000 households around the former facility. We served in a supporting and convening role to ensure that the voices of community residents and local organizations were at the forefront of planning, messaging, and implementing the event. Within the space of one day, outreach workers knocked on the doors of almost 17,000 homes, administering a short survey to assess health concerns, providing information on resources and services, and offering follow-up. The partnerships formed around that outreach event, along with the rich quantitative and qualitative data that the community shared, are informing environmental justice work within the community, our department and across sectors. Feedback from residents also alerted us to the need for additional services in neighborhood schools and community settings.
Both in preparation for accreditation and after it was achieved, the process has galvanized our resolve to identify and pursue new opportunities for partnership. It continues to strengthen our ability to improve health in Los Angeles County, arm-in-arm with the communities we serve.
Los Angeles County Department of Public Health in Los Angeles, California, was awarded national accreditation through the Public Health Accreditation Board on March 14, 2017.
About the author: Donna Sze, MPH, is Assistant Director of the Quality Improvement and Accreditation Program at the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health in Los Angeles, California. Contact her at [email protected].
Other major benefits gained as a result of going through the accreditation process:
Public health accreditation has helped initiate new quality improvement opportunities and projects, such as a project focused on gathering input on customer satisfaction
During the process of preparing for public health accreditation, the department assessed the alignment of its major plans (i.e., CHIP, Strategic Plan, Quality Improvement Plan, Workforce Development Plan) and identified some gaps; the department has been working to ensure that the major plans are in alignment with each other