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Accreditation standards offer stability amid storm of change

March 1, 2011
by Dennis Grantham, Editor-in-Chief
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As financial pressures mount, states and payers place greater trust in accredited service providers

“Scary” times prompt closer scrutiny

Richard klarberg, council on accreditation
Richard Klarberg, Council on Accreditation

“There is tremendous pressure on organizations due to cutbacks in reimbursement rates, significant delays in making reimbursements even when they're not reduced, and a great deal of uncertainty about how healthcare reform is going to impact the field, says Richard Klarberg, President and CEO of the Council on Accreditation (COA, New York, N.Y., www.coastandards.org).

“The implications of these things are having a ripple effect in organizations. Governing bodies of not-for-profits are looking more carefully about how money is being utilized, seeking to maximize their endowments, maximize staff effectiveness, and basically wrap their arms much more closely around the organizations.”

The result, he says, is that “the leadership of many organizations feels subject to more scrutiny, and we've seen a higher level of turnover at the executive level.” But the stress is also felt by service delivery staff “concerned about job security, handling expanded caseloads, and continued delivery of excellent services.”

“What's scary about these times is the underpinnings of many organizations are threatened and many high-quality, long-time organizations find they're struggling financially,” says Klarberg. “The level of uncertainty at the federal, state, and local levels has coalesced to form a ‘perfect storm’ for many organizations. And, how they will weather the storm is yet to be determined.”

Because the tough financial outlook is forecast to linger into 2013, Klarberg says that COA has placed “greater emphasis on our risk-prevention and management standards-to encourage organizations to plan not only for what's immediately ahead, for what could come down the road.”

“The level of uncertainty at the federal, state, and local levels has coalesced to form a ‘perfect storm’ for many organizations. And, how they will weather the storm is yet to be determined.”

Accreditation is important, he concludes, because it gives boards, leadership, and management a common way to look at the organization's progress. It forces a shared look back as a means of quality improvement, but also drives proactive consideration of the risks, opportunities, and strategic changes that lie ahead.

Cash-strapped payers demand accredited providers

Nikki migas, carf
Nikki Migas, CARF

“We're definitely seeing a trend toward integration as more and more larger providers-both primary care and behavioral health-are working to bring in the other,” says Nikki Migas, Managing Director, Behavioral Health and Child and Youth Services at CARF International (Tucson, Ariz., www.carf.org/programs/bh). To meet the need, CARF has “developed standards for integrated programs that help organizations to focus on the collaboration, communication, and co-location aspects of integration.”

She adds that “as bad as the economy is, we're starting to see some recovery at the federal level, but more and more cuts at the state and local levels that have trickled down to providers.” And, as payers-states, insurance companies, and managed care companies-feel the financial pressure, “we've seen more and more mandates from them for accreditation of service providers.”

She continues: “We've seen growth as states are looking at third-party accreditation to ensure quality that they no longer have the staff to assure on their own. The states have absorbed some of the budget cuts through attrition of their own workforces, but are requiring that providers get accredited to demonstrate that they are worthy of the public trust.”

Developing new standards, new ‘leading practices’ database

Recently, the Joint Commission introduced “an entirely rewritten chapter in our behavioral healthcare standards for 2011,” says Mary Cesare-Murphy, PhD, Executive Director of the Behavioral Health Care program at the Joint Commission (Oakbrook Terrace, Ill., www.jointcommission.org/accreditation/behavioral_health_care.aspx). The rewritten Care, Treatment, and Services standard integrates recovery concepts, includes new standards for eating disorder programs, enhances standards for outdoor programs, and offers a number of newly created standards for programs serving youth and young people.

Mary cesare-murphy, phd, joint commission
Mary Cesare-Murphy, PhD, Joint Commission

Cesare-Murphy notes that there's been noticeable recent growth in these “transition age” programs as more individuals struggle with the passage from adolescence to adulthood, often by “staying in school longer and experiencing more difficulties in launching a career.” Such programs ease the transition by teaching young people how to function independently, by helping them develop key skills such as finding a job, finding housing, and budgeting. “It's an interesting phenomenon,” she observes. “You see it in the child welfare world as well.”

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