Q&A with Sue Kunferman, Wood County Health Department, on Accreditation

Wood County Health Department in Wisconsin Rapids, Wis., received accreditation in May 2013 from the Public Health Accreditation Board (PHAB). Sue Kunferman, director/health officer at the health department, answers questions about the accreditation process.

Q: What, if any, other organizations were involved in the accreditation process?

A: We worked closely with the Institute for Wisconsin’s Health Inc. on QI (quality improvement) training for staff, on reviewing the PHAB measures and laying the groundwork, such as doing formal strategic planning. We also worked closely with local partners – our schools, law enforcement, our tribe, other governmental agencies, the state health department and, again, our public health institute.

We engaged policymakers throughout the process. We also communicated regularly with three other health departments in Wisconsin who were helping us lead the pack in our state. We shared documents and asked each other many, many questions as we all prepared our documentation. That support from peers was amazing, and we continue to provide similar support to many agencies in Wisconsin who want to prepare for accreditation but are struggling with certain aspects of it.

Q: What were the biggest challenges?

A: The biggest challenge was creating a true culture of quality improvement and performance management throughout our agency. QI and PM (project management) were new to everyone in 2008. I’m happy to say that we now have QI and PM solidly in place, but it took lots of time and effort!

The time it took to gather our evidence to show that we meet each measure was also very challenging. It took a significant amount of staff time to gather two examples for all 97 measures. We finished uploading all of our documentation in April of 2012. Our site visit didn’t happen until January of 2013.

During our site visit, they asked for additional examples of documentation for some measures. PHAB’s policy is not to allow any documents that were developed after the original submission date, so we couldn’t give them anything that we did after April 2012. We essentially lost nine months of our work that we could not show them, and we did great things during that time. That was very frustrating!

Q: What top tips/advice would you share with other health departments pursuing PHAB accreditation?

A: Start early. If you think you want to apply for accreditation in 2015, you should have started preparing by now. It takes lots and lots of time.

Also, if an agency isn’t even considering applying, I’d still suggest they become familiar with the PHAB measures. There are a number of measures that, if not done, cannot be done at a later time. For example, there are measures that require seeking public input on the community health improvement plan. If an agency does their CHIP and did not seek public input, they can’t really go back and redo that aspect.

I’d suggest agencies contact their peers when developing plans, policies, etc. There is no need to re-create the wheel if your neighbor has already created an excellent one! Peer support was vital to us throughout this process, and we’re happy to be providing that support to others.