What does accreditation mean for human service organizations?

Achieving accreditation is recognition that your organization adheres to a higher level of standards; that you are producing high quality services; and are operating at an effective level as recognized by an expert outside agency.

What is Accreditation?

Accreditation is a review process to determine if human service, healthcare or educational programs demonstrate their ability to meet defined standards of quality. Once achieved, accreditation is not permanent—it is renewed periodically to ensure that quality is maintained.

Requirements differ per accrediting body, but the intent remains the same: to validate an organization’s commitment to meeting accreditation standards that result in a higher level of performance. Accreditation standards have been researched, vetted and field-tested and are updated regularly, as necessary.

Earning accreditation specifies that the organization (or specific program) is appropriately managing its resources and is continually providing the highest levels of service to its clients and stakeholders. Being accredited provides credibility and helps validate and improve the safety and quality of care an organization provides.

Organizations need to demonstrate conformance with the accrediting body’s requirements by implementing the accreditation standards and undergoing an onsite survey or, more recently due to the COVID-19 pandemic, virtual review.

For human service and healthcare organizations, the broad purposes of accreditation are to establish quality measurement criteria and to raise the level of services and professionalism within a given profession or industry (QUALITY) and to ensure services are delivered in a safe manner and in a safe environment (SAFETY).

Becoming accredited offers organizations professional recognition for meeting the highest standards in quality service delivery while providing clients with an appropriate tool for effectively evaluating service providers. Organizations that achieve accreditation have reached beyond the minimum licensing standards and made a long-term commitment to strong management, program consistency, outcome measurements and continuous improvement throughout their agencies.

Accreditation standards address such areas as:

  • Leadership and governance
  • Financial controls
  • Facilities security and safety
  • Workforce development – recruiting, hiring practices, background checks, performance appraisals, training and supervision
  • Performance measurement and improvement
  • Client rights and confidentiality
  • Program administration and service delivery

With all of the needed information in-hand during a survey, the accrediting body will determine whether accreditation has been earned and, if so, will accredit the organization accordingly.

The entire process may take anywhere from 12 to 18 months to complete. For behavioral health and social service organizations, accreditation is valid for 3 or 4 years and there is another full survey at the end of each accreditation cycle.

While accreditation is generally a private (non-governmental), voluntary process, it is often a significant decision-making consideration by potential clients, individual donors, foundations, governmental funding agencies, and billing and private insurance companies.

Here are just a few of the businesses and nonprofits that value the benefits of maintaining accreditation within their respective industries:

  • Mental healthcare and substance use treatment facilities
  • Service providers for people with intellectual or developmental disabilities
  • Foster care and adoption agencies
  • Group homes/residential treatment for children and youth
  • Early childhood education centers and day care providers
  • Hospitals
  • Nursing homes and assisted living facilities
  • Medical laboratories and blood banks
  • Credit counseling agencies
  • Colleges and universities – must be accredited by one of the federally-recognized accreditors for students to be eligible for U.S. federal student aid
  • Continuing education providers
  • Museums
  • Aquariums and zoos – Accreditation from angelfish to zebras!

More often than not, many people don’t realize how often accreditation actually touches their lives. Accreditation is everywhere!

If you are ready to explore how accreditation could be a benefit to your organization or if you have questions about the process, please contact us.

For more information or questions about the contents of this article, please write or call Jennifer Flowers @ Jennifer@AccreditationGuru.com / 212.209.0240.   This post contains original content and was written for Accreditation Guru, Inc. Use of this copy is permitted with credit and reference within the same body of copy to Accreditation Guru, Inc.

Accreditation Mandate? Panic or Plan!

Accreditation mandates are all the talk among leaders of human service organizations. Thanks to the recent passage of the Family First Prevention Services Act (FFPSA) on the national level and state mandates for accreditation, like one recently instituted for adult foster care providers in Massachusetts, many child, family and behavioral healthcare service agencies are becoming alarmed about having to complete the complex accreditation process within short deadlines. Well, they can either panic or plan!

Accreditation requires that organizations undergo an objective review by an independent accrediting body and signifies that they are effectively managing their resources and enhancing the quality of life for the population served. Providers that earn accreditation signal their desire to reach beyond the minimum licensing standards and make a long-term commitment to strong governance, program consistency, outcome measurement and continuous improvement throughout their agencies.

Achieving accreditation is a worthy endeavor, even if it is a requirement, but many organizations underestimate the time commitment involved. In general, it takes 12 to 18 months to prepare for national accreditation – sometimes more, sometimes less, depending on the original state of readiness.

Effective project management from the beginning is key. You must plan for an even flow of work in order to avoid a rush at the end. You also need to allow time for significant steps in the process, including, but not limited to:

  • Selecting an accrediting body. (See our tip sheet on how best to approach this evaluation.)
  • Securing budgetary allotment and board approval.
  • Each accrediting body calculates its own application fees, survey costs and annual fees, which may vary widely based on the revenue size of the organization being reviewed, and/or the number of programs and locations. Staff time, operational improvements and consultants (if utilized) may also add to overall expenditures.
  • Preparing standards-compliant policies, procedures, plans and protocols.
  • Making operational and service delivery improvements, as necessary.
  • Implementing updated processes to conform with accreditation standards.
  • Participating in a mock survey.

When an accreditation mandate is enacted, a deadline is imposed on organizations. Remember, though, that there may be hundreds or many hundreds of organizations trying to become accredited at the same time and the accrediting bodies only have a finite amount of capacity to accommodate all of these applicants.

With the Family First Prevention Services Act, for example, congregate care providers must become accredited “Qualified Residential Treatment Providers” (QRTPs) by October 1, 2019. Though states have the option to extend this deadline for up to two years, all affected service providers should already be proactively working toward accreditation.

When a mandate is instituted, impacted organizations should begin the accreditation process as soon as possible to get ahead of the influx of other providers seeking to become accredited and have enough time to thoroughly and calmly complete the necessary work. Once the process begins, effective project management and support from leadership will help ensure that accreditation activities stay on track despite other priorities that may arise.

Clearly, it is better to plan rather than panic!