A voluntary accreditation program for public health departments across the country is being tested by 30 departments before its national launch in 2011. The goal of the new program is to improve the quality of care delivered by public health agencies that are responsible for such services as immunizations, hearing tests for children and restaurant inspections. The initiative, believed to be the first of its kind, is being funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "With accreditation status, public health departments will be able to demonstrate increased accountability and credibility to the public, funders, elected officials and other stakeholders," said Kaye Bender, RN, PhD, president and CEO of the nonprofit Public Health Accreditation Board, which was established in 2007 to oversee the effort. At least two states accredit their local health departments, public health officials said. Those programs, in North Carolina and Michigan, have demonstrated that the accreditation process and the planning that goes with it better prepare departments to respond to health events such as outbreaks of influenza A(H1N1) virus and vaccine distribution, Bender said. "If we encourage [health departments] to focus on planning ahead and doing so in a scientific and deliberative manner, they should be ready for whatever comes their way," she said. The PHAB received 145 applications from departments seeking to be among the 30 selected to test the process. Those selected for the initial test include the Miami-Dade County Health Dept.; Deschutes County Health Dept. in Bend, Ore.; and the Tioga County Health Dept. in Owego, N.Y. The sites will complete the accreditation process this year, and their feedback will be used to fine-tune the program before its national launch. Fees for the accreditation have not been established. The program has the approval of several organizations, including the Assn. of State and Territorial Health Officials and the National Assn. of County and City Health Officials. The performance standards being measured are based on 11 essential services that are common to health departments. For example, departments are required to collect and maintain population health data, investigate health problems and environmental hazards in a timely way, then mitigate those problems and hazards. "What's meant to be demonstrated is that local health departments are using quality improvement to examine the work they are doing and discover how it can be improved," said Robert Pestronk, executive director of the National Assn. of County and City Health Officials. The full and original article can be found here: http://www.ama-assn.org/amednews/2010/02/15/prse0216.htm