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Idaho's North Central Public Health District: The Time for Accreditation Is Now

Bud Nicola, MD, MHSA, led a training about the role of accreditation in public health and common QI tools and techniques to help Idaho's North Central Public Health District in their process.

Bud Nicola, MD, MHSA, led a training about the role of accreditation in public health and common QI tools and techniques to help Idaho's North Central Public Health District in their process.

April 12, 2012

Health departments across the country are implementing Quality Improvement (QI) measures to improve performance and demonstrate accountability in preparation for national public health accreditation. This is no small process. That's why Idaho’s North Central Public Health District invited NWCPHP faculty member Bud Nicola, MD, MHSA, to lead a training about the role of accreditation in public health and common QI tools and techniques.

"The accreditation process gives us a roadmap to demonstrate the value we provide to our community," said Carol Moehrle, North Central District Director, explaining why she requested the training. "We already collect data and document much of our work, but now we want to make a major organizational shift to use that data to improve our processes and performance."

She also praised her leadership team and board of health for supporting the district-wide effort.

Although accreditation is voluntary, Nicola encourages all health departments to participate. He explained, "Accreditation provides a system of accountability—something all organizations should strive for. Using QI techniques in the process is good management."

Good managers also look for ways to maximize their resources. With a staff of only 50 people to cover 13,000 square miles, Moehrle does this by cross-training everyone, including herself, on job duties outside their primary position.

"I sometimes cover for staff when they are gone, and it really helps me appreciate their work," she said.

Because they are busy covering such a large region, staff at the North Central Health District have few opportunities to get together as one group. This training was a special event involving everyone and every level of the organization in the accreditation process.

"The best thing I can do for my staff is keep them well trained. Increased skills and knowledge contribute to job satisfaction and retention," said Moerle.

Moehrle explained that staff are being asked to do more and more, which makes training essential. This strong emphasis on training, especially in the current economic climate, may sound unique, but it is based on years of experience. In 1991, at the age of 35, Moehrle became the youngest health district director in Idaho and the first female director for her district. Those early learning years prepared her for the current challenges of public health management.

"We've had rocky times and staff have gone without," said Moerle. "They just got their first raise in five years. We also have 20 fewer employees compared to five years ago, and that loss is hard."

Despite the challenges, Moehrle says she is continually amazed by the resilience of the public health workforce, and she is hopeful about the implications of national accreditation.

"My father is a clockmaker, and he always tells me 'Timing is everything.' He's right. Timing is everything, and the time for accreditation is now."

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