TOOELE — In an attempt to serve its surrounding communities better and more consistently, the Tooele County Health Department has received a national nod of accreditation.
It is one of the first health departments in the nation and the first in Utah to earn the recognition, which follows a rigorous examination process involving the Virginia-based, national Public Health Department Accreditation Board.
The national standards "foster effectiveness and promote continuous quality improvement," said Tooele County health officer Myron Bateman. He said the process, which began in 2009, has helped "to ensure that the programs and services we provide are as responsive as possible to the needs of our community."
With help from residents and community leaders, department officials identified several areas of emphasis.
In order to improve obesity and diabetes rates, the county is working on providing better access to walking trails and access to health care. Bateman said the Utah Transit Authority now offers two bus routes to help people in both the Grantsville and Tooele communities get to various doctor offices.
The health department also initiated the Live Fit Coalition, partnering with dozens of businesses and agencies to encourage physical activity throughout the area.
Tooele County had the state's highest obesity rate in 2011, with more than 30 percent of its residents overweight, according to data from Utah’s Indicator-Based Information System for Public Health. The rate fell to about 28 percent in 2012, likely partly due to health department efforts.
"The accreditation process has really helped us take our resources and focus them where they are needed most," Bateman said. The board requires annual reports outlining specific goals and a major assessment of the department every five years.
Official recognition, he said, also helps to provide more transparent accountability and increased credibility to the public, funders, elected officials and partner organizations that work with the department.
"By continuing to improve our services and performance, we can be sure we are meeting the public health needs of those we serve as effectively as possible," Bateman said. "It has really helped to make us a stronger health department."
The national accreditation program, jointly funded by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, sets standards against which the nation's more than 3,000 governmental public health departments can be tested and improve. To become accredited, departments undergo a multi-faceted, peer-reviewed application and assessment process to ensure it meets or exceeds a set of quality standards and measures.
Departments are also assessed a $5,000 fee for accreditation, but, in turn, accreditation helps to shorten grant application processes.
The process also provides feedback to inform health departments of their strengths and areas for potential improvement.
Since the program's launch in 2011, nearly 130 departments have applied for accreditation, and hundreds of public health practitioners from across the nation have been trained to serve as volunteer peer site visitors for the program.
"Achieving accreditation indicates that the Tooele County Health Department is dedicated to improving and protecting the health of the community by striving to continuously improve the quality of the service it delivers," said Public Health Accreditation Board chairwoman Dr. Carol Moehrle.
"Accreditation also promotes consistency in meeting standards," she said. "With an ever-increasing number of health departments now applying for and becoming accredited, you will be able to expect to receive the same quality of public health services wherever you go in the United States."
Public health departments play a critical role in protecting and improving the health of people and communities, providing a range of services focusing on promoting healthy behaviors, preventing disease and injury, ensuring access to safe food, water and clean air, immunizations, and preparing for and responding to public health emergencies.
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