In Pursuit of Public Health Accreditation

Client Northwest Region: Westford Health Department and Lowell Health Department

Practice Area Evaluation and Quality Improvement

The Story of the Westford and Lowell Health Departments

The Town of Westford and City of Lowell Health Departments are located in Middlesex County, Massachusetts and serve a combined population of about 130,000 residents. The Westford Health Department provides clinical services such as immunizations, health screenings, and referrals, along with community based programs within substance use prevention, tobacco control, communicable disease surveillance, and health education to achieve the highest level of wellness for all Westford residents and employees. The Lowell Health Department also provides a wide range of public health programs to improve the health and wellbeing of the people of Lowell, including immunizations and communicable disease management, substance use efforts and resource dissemination, tobacco control, emergency preparedness planning, safe sharps and medication disposals, school health programs, and community health education.

The Challenge of Public Health Accreditation

In 2021, the Westford Health Department began the process of considering their capacity to pursue Public Health Accreditation in collaboration with other local jurisdictions, including the Lowell Health Department. Public Health Accreditation is the measurement of a health department’s performance against a set of nationally recognized, practice focused, and evidence-based standards as outlined by the Public Health Accreditation Board (PHAB) to improve and protect the health of their community. 

Pursuing accreditation is a daunting task that can take multiple years of coordination and planning within a health department. Although there are many benefits to the accreditation process (such as improved performance management systems and increased collaboration with community partners), there are also many challenges throughout the process. With 10 domains each containing multiple standards and measures, there are over 200 examples requiring documentation for local health departments to submit to PHAB. This can be an overwhelming process to begin organizing and managing, especially when considering that there may be measures in which internal documentation doesn’t yet exist, and the health department will need to identify how and when they will implement new strategies and programs. Depending on the size and funding of a health department, it can be incredibly challenging to pursue accreditation within current levels of staffing and resources. 

How BME Strategies Responded

In response to this goal of pursuing public health accreditation, BME Strategies partnered with both the Westford and Lowell Health Departments to provide aligned and simultaneous support in coordinating, facilitating, and developing strategies and deliverables to meet PHAB standards, while still adapting to the unique experiences of each health department. To facilitate the process of accreditation, BME Strategies developed a tracking dashboard outlining each of the standards and measures, along with the example documentation, to create templates and draft policies, procedures, or design projects to be adapted and utilized to fulfill each PHAB measure.

The Results

For accreditation, the five “big-lift” deliverables that must be completed include the Community Health Assessment (CHA), Community Health Improvement Plan (CHIP), Quality Improvement Plan (QI Plan), Strategic Plan (SP), and Workforce Development Plan (WFDP), which have been the main focus of support for the initial stages of pursuing accreditation. One of the most intensive aspects of accreditation includes completing the Community Health Assessment and Community Health Improvement Plan in collaboration with community partners and stakeholders. In the fall of 2023, BME Strategies worked with both the Westford and Lowell Health Departments to complete a stakeholder assessment of potential partners, followed by coordinating the outreach and facilitation of the community partnership meetings, and identifying and analyzing available primary and secondary data to create the foundation of the Community Health Assessment. BME Strategies has also drafted and finalized the Branding Guidelines and QI Plan for both Westford and Lowell, disseminated workforce assessments and  is in the midst of developing a Workforce Development Plan.

Overall Impact Statement

BME Strategies has been a pivotal partner for the Town of Westford and City of Lowell Health Departments in launching the accreditation process, strengthening partnerships, and refining internal functions in accordance with Public Health Accreditation Board (PHAB) standards.