Accreditation’s Significance in Time of Crisis

Since late February 2020, child welfare agencies and behavioral health care organizations have been forced to focus on two critical functions – infection control and emergency management. Depending on the services provided and location of the organization, providers have been forced to change their operations in ways that include having all employees work remotely, provide telehealth services or even “closing the gates” and delivering residential services without people going on or off the property.

In these trying times, the framework provided by implementing national accreditation standards certainly helps service providers better manage the necessary pivot in operations and service delivery in this time of crisis.

Accreditation Standards – Detailed Plans and Strategic Safety Net

Accreditation standards that address risk prevention and management, infection prevention and control, performance and quality improvement, technology and information management and staff training are all being put to the test these days.

Effective risk management controls include, but are not limited to, emergency response preparedness. An accredited agency is required to have a written disaster plan for evacuation and relocation of staff and clients, parent-child reunification following a disaster, as well as specific plans to meet the needs of individuals with disabilities and other special needs during emergencies. The organization must also address coordination with governmental authorities and emergency responders. Further, staff needs to be trained on how to respond to medical threats and emergencies and how to handle potential safety risks they may encounter on the job.

Accreditation (maintenance and preparation) guides an organization through a thoughtful, structured and planned process to create an infrastructure for risk management and performance improvement that can be seamlessly implemented during times of crisis like this one.

The accreditation process also helps organizations review and strengthen their policies and practices through compliance with national standards of care. This includes creating processes for gathering and using data for continuous improvement of the quality of the services provided. It is not enough to collect and analyze data related to outputs such as the number of clinical sessions provided or the total number of clients served, but they also must identify, observe and measure the effects of a program’s services on clients.

“Plan and procedures for disaster readiness are a lived concept for CARF-accredited organizations. The readiness mindset of our programs has helped organizations and their staff to transition services to better support children and families during this pandemic.” – Leslie Ellis-Lang, MMFT, Managing Director, CARF Child and Youth Services *

Technology-Based Service Delivery – AKA Telehealth

Due to the pandemic and resulting COVID-19 funding legislation that now expands coverage for telehealth services for Medicaid and Medicare beneficiaries, a vast number of service providers were given the opportunity to make a seemingly overnight shift to employees working remotely and providing telehealth services.

The existing accreditation standards in place that address the management of technology-based service delivery allow companies to reference their strategic plan and immediately embrace the full-time use of this technology.

Any accredited organization that engages or plans to engage service recipients in technology-based service delivery needs to develop policies and procedures to guide telehealth service delivery to address privacy and security measures. They must also assess the appropriateness of technology-based service delivery for each individual and monitor effectiveness of using this model.

Accreditation standards further address competency-based training for personnel on the use of equipment and software, privacy and confidentiality issues, and recognizing and responding to emergency or crisis situations from a remote location.

While many organizations may not have developed a detailed pandemic response plan, wouldn’t it have been helpful to have already addressed and planned for the use of telehealth services and having employees work remotely under the framework of accreditation standards?

Accreditation Drivers

“Accreditation is not just a box to tick and this is even more apparent during times of crisis,” says Jody Levison-Johnson, President and CEO, Council on Accreditation (COA). “COA has standards that address key preparedness and response issues. These fall under the broad standards categories of human resources management, safety and security, and emergency preparedness – all of which are critical during times of crisis.” *

The three major accrediting bodies for human service organizations (CARF International Council on Accreditation and The Joint Commission) research and develop their unique set of accreditation standards that address a commitment to helping child welfare and behavior health care organizations provide safe and high-quality care, treatment or service. Applying the standards often leads to an increase in consumer confidence in service delivery. Read “Increasing Consumer Confidence Through Accreditation“.

“(The Joint Commission) recognizes the challenges behavioral healthcare organizations are facing during this difficult time and we want to hear from all behavioral health care providers what else we can do to help.” – Julia Finken, Executive Director, Behavioral Health Care Accreditation *

This Too Shall Pass

“This too shall pass” is comforting and indeed it will (or be better controlled). But, as the pandemic stretches on and businesses start to develop a “new normal” for addressing the various health and economic needs of the public at large, a pre-laid foundation of strategic plans and detailed response initiatives can provide a more effective pivot for a company.

Is your organization one of them? By scheduling time to focus on accreditation, you can address key initiatives now and stay ahead of the game in the future. Don’t delay your preparation for achieving accreditation. Develop a work schedule that includes accreditation preparation whether you are applying for the first time or maintaining your status.

Keep Your Momentum Going!

*For additional information from the accrediting bodies:

CARF International

COA “Preparing for Response to COVID-19”

The Joint Commission

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