Intermountain - Caring Solutions, Strong Families, Healthy Communities

Great Aunt Sue, Dust Bunnies and Accreditation: Why We Strive for Excellence in Health Care

By Michelle Hauer, MPA, CHPSE, Intermountain Quality Assurance Director

There is a level of chaos that ensues in one’s house when Mom utters those four dreaded words, “The relatives are coming.” I often wondered what the fuss was about. My cluttered room didn’t say anything about who I was or how I was raised, other than I didn’t believe in using my dresser or hangers. My messy bed was no reflection on my parents’ ability to raise children. I often wondered as a child as I was cleaning in corners where no one would ever look, why this required such grave attention. I also wondered why we would invite such stress. Just don’t let them visit. Seemed simple. Then no one sees your dirty laundry, dust bunnies or dryer lint. Then I became a Quality Assurance Director where part of my job became to prepare for the relatives to enter our agency, and in those moments I finally understood the true meaning behind “the relatives are coming” and why the preparation and demonstration of excellence was of such importance.

In the world of behavioral health care, “the relatives” come in many shapes and sizes. Some of them are regular visitors in the form of annual licensure reviews. Others like to pop in at random intervals to ensure things are up to par. Each year Intermountain services are evaluated by anywhere from 5-8 external agencies, all checking to make sure that the quality of care provided is at the highest standards. These visits are a required part of business and maintenance of licensure. Programs and process are measured against various standards to ensure the clients we serve are receiving the best care possible. The one lesson I did gleam from the relatives visiting as a child is that you have much less work to do if you keep things up. So at Intermountain, that is what we do. We monitor. We evaluate. We assess. That way we know that at any given time an impromptu visit from any entity will find what we already know….that we provide high quality care to the clients and communities we serve.

In 2015, Intermountain made the decision to host a “family reunion”. In other words, it sought to achieve the designation of accreditation for the Helena Residential Program through the Council on Accreditation (COA).  Accreditation is not something required for agencies like Intermountain in Montana. So that begs the questions….why would an organization invite in such scrutiny? Why would you want someone to be checking to be sure that you did in fact polish all the silverware? Intermountain strives for excellence. In order to do that, you need to seek external evaluation and critical external evaluation from your peers. That is what accreditation provides. It provides an opportunity for an agency to be measured against the highest of standards and identify areas where they excel and also areas for growth. Let’s face it. Every agency can improve, learn and grow. Intermountain seeking COA accreditation was just as much about demonstrating excellence as it was seeking opportunities to learn and grow as a behavioral health care provider.

In December 2015, Intermountain achieved national accreditation through COA for the Helena Residential Program. The COA accreditation process involved a detailed review and analysis of Intermountain’s administration, management, and service delivery functions against international standards of best practice. This is a significant achievement for our organization and one we are extremely proud of accomplishing. COA accreditation affirmed that Intermountain meets the highest national standards of best practice and established our credibility as effective and professionally sound. In addition, it provided assurance to all of our stakeholders that Intermountain is delivering needed, high-quality services in our community, conducting its operations successfully, and managing its funds effectively.

Achieving COA accreditation for the Helena Residential Program was just the beginning. Our work is far from over. COA accreditation is not an end in and of itself. Rather, it is a process by which Intermountain can consistently strive for and achieve new levels of excellence.

COA Accreditation began a new chapter for Intermountain. Over the next three years, Intermountain will begin preparation to seek COA Accreditation beyond its Helena Residential Program. Yes, again we will invite the entire family to come and see the state of our affairs. We will be asking COA to measure every program and service against the standards of best practice. Accreditation pushes programs to the highest level of excellence and that is what we seek. We do not shy away from hosting the family gatherings. We embrace them and invite them. It is the best way to ensure that the highest quality is being delivered to those we serve. Quality assurance at its best. The clients and communities we serve deserve nothing short of excellence.

Michelle Hauer, serves as Quality Assurance Director at Intermountain and is responsible for the organization’s quality, compliance, accreditation, licensing, and risk mitigation. She holds a BSW from Carroll College and a Master’s in Public Administration from the University of Montana.  Michelle is a Certified HIPAA Privacy and Security Expert (CHPSE).

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