No sooner had the new Pokagon health facility opened in late 2014 than the PHS team began their next challenge: measuring the quality of its services and performance against nationally-recognized standards. They embarked on earning accreditation from the Accreditation Association for Ambulatory Health Care, or AAAHC.
The AAAHC assists ambulatory (meaning patients don’t stay overnight) health care organizations in improving the quality of patient care. It sets standards, measures performance, and provides consultation and education. As PHS Director Matt Clay explains, “the driving force behind pursuing this accreditation was our desire to consciously improve what we are doing here, so we can take better care of those we serve.”
Quality Specialist Val Turner, Clinic Manager Latrice Brooks, Dental Manager Mary Margaret Pierce-Lambert, and Clay attended several AAAHC seminars; from those and the 26 chapter binder full of standards to meet, they knew what they had to work on.
“The manual not only list standards that we would have to achieve but it also gave us a list of written requirements i.e. policies and procedures that were needed as well,” said Brooks. “Val divided the chapters by department and assigned them to our management team.”
PHS had to meet standards in each one of 15 areas and get a green light from AAAHC before moving on to the next. These included a mission and vision, an organizational chart, assigning ownership, legal documentation, and two quality improvement plans. Their two quality improvement plans were evaluating the no show rate and colorectal cancer screenings. Staff also participated in a mock survey with AAAHC in early 2017.
“I liked the teamwork,” said Turner. “Everyone was good about getting their work done, the two surveyors were very impressed with the things we offer to citizens and patients, especially being in a rural area and no cost.”
In addition to PHS submitting plans for how it is or will meet accreditation standards, two AAAHC surveyors were on site July 19-20, talking to staff and observing operations.
“It was stressful, but I am glad we went through it,” said Brooks. “The initial survey for any certification is stressful, and the AAAHC only told us what is required to achieve certification, but they didn’t give us a roadmap on how to get there.”
On August 4 AAAHC notified PHS they had earned three accreditations—dental, medical, and comprehensive one for the facility. They were also granted status as a Patient Centered Medical Home, which is not just a place, but a model of primary care that delivers the core functions of primary health care: comprehensive, patient-centered, coordinated care, accessible services, and quality and safety.
“It shows that you have the gold standard of quality care,” said Turner. “When patients come through the door they knows they are in their medical or dental home. We’re unique because we have behavioral health, pharmacy, and dental in one setting to take care of all of your needs and coordinate care. Not many health facilities have that distinction.”
AAAHC requires reaccreditation, every three years, but a team could come back for a spot check unexpectedly to ensure compliance. “At least now we know what to expect,” said Brooks.
While AAAHC accreditation provides unbiased, external verification that PHS is meeting or exceeding nationally-identified benchmarks, Clay also explained that it serves as a symbolic recognition of the effort, dedication, and compassion that PHS employees put into their daily work to ensure the best for each and every patient.
“Health care improvement is a continuous process, one that none of us can do alone,” he said. “Having the opportunity to share ideas and best practices with other experts and organizations such as AAAHC advances the ability of PHS to optimize patient care.”
PHS works hard at integrating the care it delivers, using the collective skills, knowledge gained, and experiences of its team members to provide comprehensive and holistic care to their patients.
“Patients put a lot of trust in us when they walk through our doors,” said Gerald Morris, MD, PHS medical director. “That is not something we take for granted. We want our patients to know that we genuinely care for them and their families, and our team will continuously strive for improvement to ensure they get highquality care.”