November 28, 2018

Health Department Gets National Recognition

By Anne Levin

The Princeton Health Department has achieved national accreditation, the municipality announced Monday. The ranking comes through the Public Health Accreditation Board (PHAB)  and puts Princeton in a category with about 200 local health departments across the nation.

“It’s a pretty huge deal,” said Jeffrey Grosser, Princeton’s health officer. “It basically says we’re a top performer and we’re meeting the public’s health needs as effectively as possible. It also demonstrates accountability to everybody.”

The PHAB first started accrediting local health departments in 2011. Princeton joins Bloomfield, Camden County, and the New Jersey Department of Health as the four departments in the Garden State to achieve the accreditation. The national program is jointly supported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. It sets standards against which the nation’s nearly 3,000 governmental public health departments can continuously improve their services and performance.

No matter their size, each health department undergoes the same peer-reviewed assessment process. Princeton’s department has four people, while those of larger towns and cities might have as many as 200, said Grosser, who came to Princeton from Burlington County in 2014.

“We had just begun the process in Burlington when I left, so I had begun to understand how it works,” he said. “When I got here, I thought this was a great opportunity to achieve something and also get the department on the right path.”

Princeton’s department was evaluated across 12 core domains that cover essential public health services. In a press release, George DiFernando, chair of the Princeton Board of Health, said the process led the Princeton Health Department “to evaluate and improve permit and applications processes, restructuring process response activation protocols around infectious disease and environmental health incidents, as well as ensuring accessibility to culturally and linguistically approved health services.”

Grosser said, “They look at programs, policies, procedures, and day-to-day operations. They also consider the work we do with the local Princeton Board of Health, how we engage with the public, and our finances. The group reviews some
major documents — strategic plan, health improvement plan, and other things — to make sure you are addressing the needs of the community and measure what type of impact you’re having locally.”

Heather Howard, Council liaison to the Princeton Board of Health, said in the press release, “The impact of national public health accreditation will ultimately lead to healthier results for those who live, work, and play in Princeton. I’m honored to have seen this process through and I’m proud of the health department for this prestigious achievement.”

The process of gaining accreditation took four years. Grosser said he was “pleasantly surprised” to learn of the department’s designation. “But we put in so much hard work that I knew it was going to pay off. I just wasn’t sure when they was going to happen,” he said. “It’s nice to be recognized for something positive, based on the day-to-day work we do, not just a disaster or emergency situation. Our goal is to have a high-level, high-functioning health department. Aside from us now having a better system in terms of obtaining valuable and measurable feedback of how we’re performing, it also ensures the community that we’re spending money wisely. And it allows us to have a better framework for different priorities.”