Howard County General earns highest level of accreditation

Group's commendation is a first for the hospital

April 01, 1999|By Erika D. Peterman | Erika D. Peterman,SUN STAFF

Howard County General Hospital has received the highest form of accreditation from the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations, the country's predominant, standards-setting health care group.

For the first time in the hospital's 25-year history, Howard County General earned accreditation with commendation, awarded to hospitals that "demonstrate exemplary performance overall," according to JCAHO. Though the hospital had been accredited at least a half-dozen times before, it had never reached this level, said Howard County General President and CEO Victor A. Broccolino.

The hospital -- a 233-bed, private, not-for-profit facility in Columbia -- scored 97 out of a possible 100 points.

"The entire organization celebrated," Broccolino said. "We've all been very, very pleased and gratified. It's something that every hospital strives for."

Based in Oakbrook Terrace, Ill., the commission evaluates some 20,000 health care organizations in the United States, including nursing homes, clinical laboratories and outpatient surgery facilities. It is a private, not-for-profit group that has developed professional standards for the health care industry since 1951.

Accreditation is voluntary, and health care organizations subject themselves to a rigorous survey that includes 550 standards. With the help of a team of surveyors throughout the country, JCAHO may offer five kinds of accreditation, ranging from provisional to accreditation with commendation.

"If a hospital comes to us and it's the first time they're going through accreditation, very often they'll spend six to 18 months getting ready for that survey," said JCAHO spokeswoman Julia Roberts. "It's a very rigorous process. Some people liken it to a financial audit.

"We're looking at anything that affects the care of the patient; the continuum of care, to patient rights, even to the design of the environment."

To earn and maintain accreditation, organizations must undergo an on-site survey every three years. Howard County General went through the process in July and learned of its status in December, Broccolino said.

"You can argue that most hospitals -- and we are no exception -- spend probably the entire three years at varying levels in preparing for it," Broccolino said. "You want to maintain the level of effort and the level of compliance. We have someone here who spends a not insubstantial amount of time keeping the enthusiasm going."

Roberts said a team of three people -- a doctor, a nurse and an administrative employee -- usually conducts the survey. They provide the data to members of the commission to analyze and review.

"The standards, they are state-of-the-art and they are continually updated," she said. "This actually was somebody's idea back in 1911. Back then, the minimum standards of care filled one page. It has evolved over the years."

Broccolino is familiar with the survey's high standards. In 1995, Howard County General did not receive accreditation, despite scoring in the high 90s. Even now, hospital officials are taking a closer look at the areas that cost them the few points they missed.

"The fact of the matter is, there is always room for substantial improvement," Broccolino said. "We don't put ourselves out there as perfect. This just confirms that we're going in the right direction."

Said Roberts: "Basically, what we're saying is if the hospital is doing the right things and doing them well, there's a strong possibility that the patient will experience good outcomes."

Pub Date: 4/01/99

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