Health Impact Assessment: An Essential Tool for Health Department Accreditation

By Shannon Browlee, MPH, Public Health Educator, Okaland County Health Division (MI) and
Stephanie Souter, MS, Planner II,Washington County (MN) Public Health & Environment

HIA and AccreditationSeeking accreditation status from the Public Health Accreditation Board (PHAB), and integrating Health Impact Assessment (HIA) into community-wide, decision-making practice are two goals shared by many health departments across the country. Surprisingly, the use of HIA to help achieve accreditation by health department staff is not common practice. However, a diverse group of dedicated public health professionals are making efforts to illustrate the connection, and formally introduce HIA as a tool that can support the advancement of health departments to achieve PHAB accreditation status.

HIA is a systematic, structured process that brings together scientific data, public health expertise, and stakeholder input to accomplish two major outcomes. First, HIA provides an assessment of potential health consequences resulting from a proposed policy, project, plan, or program that does not have health as its primary objective. Second, using the results of the this assessment, HIA serves as a guide when crafting recommendations to modify the policy, project, plan, or program in question ensuring it sufficiently addresses health, equity, and security. This two-pronged process is a key component of implementing an overall Health in All Policies (HiAP) approach, and moving towards decision-making that emphasizes collaborations and partnerships across sectors. As of April 2015, the Health Impact Project has documented 345 HIAs which have either been completed or are in progress.

In 2015, NACCHO convened the HIA Community of Practice (CoP) to promote the HIA field and continue to foster HIA practice and leadership among local health departments (LHDs). The CoP provides an opportunity for HIA practitioners who are also LHD staff to collaborate, share relevant HIA information, and have access to technical assistance and educational resources from NACCHO and other national partners. Based on varying interests, CoP members also convene in several smaller working groups to develop HIA tools, relevant for the public health workforce.

One emerging theme as determined by the workgroup centered on exploring the overlap between HIA and PHAB standards and measures. Moreover, the workgroup was created to pinpoint how health departments can use these similarities as an asset to reach accreditation status. By utilizing their own experiences and engaging in thoughtful discussion, this workgroup identified 13 PHAB standards across eight domains where an HIA could help demonstrate conformity. The collective efforts of the working group resulted in a formal report developed with support from NACCHO and PHAB, titled, Crosswalk between Public Health Accreditation and Health Impact Assessment. This resource is intended to help health departments discover where and how their HIA work might contribute towards meeting Accreditation. CoP members hope this new resource will foster increased cross-collaboration between health department staff working on accreditation and those involved in HIA practice.

In addition to accreditation, the same workgroup also began to examine how HIA could support LHDs in implementing a Community Health Improvement Plan (CHIP). Workgroup members developed a survey to assess if and how health departments were currently using HIA as part of their CHIP efforts. Although the survey response rate was low, most participating LHDs indicated no correlation between their HIA and CHIP. The workgroup and entire CoP aims to bridge this gap in the near future, by gathering additional data, and continuing their efforts of increasing HIA awareness and use across all LHD work.

NACCHO’s HIA Community of Practice is supported by the Health Impact Project, a collaboration of the Pew Charitable Trusts and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Learn more about NACCHO’s HIA efforts, here.

About Anastasia Sonneman

Anastasia Sonneman serves as a Communications Specialist at NACCHO. Her work includes promoting local health departments' best practices, as well as partner tools and resources, in environmental health, health and disability, and preparedness through NACCHO's communications channels, storytelling, and outreach to various audiences.

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