I met Lisa Meadows in Florida last winter. I know what you might be thinking and you would be incorrect. We were not spending the season in a warmer climate, although the break was nice! We each spoke at the Winter conference of the Home Care Association of Florida (HCAF). Lisa is the Clinical Compliance Educator at the Accreditation Commission for Health Care (ACHC). I recently caught up with Lisa to delve into the benefits of accreditation even when the state doesn’t require it. This is part of our “Sharpen the Saw” Summer Series to take your agency to the next level.

What is accreditation?

Accreditation is granted to home health and home care organizations that demonstrate their ability to meet regulatory requirements and standards. It’s a seal of quality reflecting the agency’s dedication to meet a certain standard of performance and care.

ACHC is one of the accreditation agencies in the country. They conduct on-site surveys every three years to certify and re-certify providers. The comprehensive survey looks at the organizational structure, policies and procedures, and compliance with state and federal law.

Benefits of voluntary accreditation

Even when the state doesn’t require accreditation, a number of home care agencies go through the accreditation process. They do it voluntarily because owners consider it an investment in their business. Going through the process of accreditation reinforces a culture of compliance. “It’s too easy to be too busy to do the right thing,” says Lisa.

Preparing for accreditation, agencies get exposure to the best-in-class structures and processes to deliver quality care. The accreditation sets clear expectations for the different roles. In turns, clear expectations allow for accountability. At a time of high turnover, this investment is particularly valuable. The processes mandated by accreditation ensure continuity of care regardless of personnel turnover.

Read the full article here (hyperlink) and learn how being accredited can help you to market your agency to prospective clients and caregivers. It is also a wise risk management strategy (aka lawsuits protection). Lisa reveals the most common HR challenges that can stand in the way of your accreditation.

Being accreditation demonstrates your commitment to quality. Accreditation is one of the benchmarks for measuring the quality of your agency. Preparing for accreditation gives your organization an opportunity to identify its strengths and areas for improvement.

In a crowded marketplace, voluntary accreditation makes you stand out. It’s a distinction you can market with prospective clients and prospective employees. It differentiates your agency from others in your community. It demonstrates your dedication to improving patient safety and professionalism.

Lisa recalls the example of a home health agency in Florida seeking voluntary accreditation. The on-site survey didn’t go well but the agency administrators really appreciated the education they received. Understanding the accreditation requirements made them a better agency. With proper documentation, they are now able to demonstrate the quality of care they provide clients.

Another benefit of accreditation is risk management. Any on-site survey highlights what needs to be addressed for better care or better consistency of care before a crisis strikes. Voluntarily addressing any findings and getting help for the accreditation agency is the best way to avoid legal entanglements. When there is a negative outcome for a client, agencies need to demonstrate that their employees are qualified and competent. This competency requirement is essential whenever a lawsuit for negligence is brought by a client or their family. ACHC requires initial and annual competency assessments and documentation of that assessment which can be used as a positive defense.

HR deficiencies when seeking accreditation

The on-site survey is like an internal audit. It highlights the areas for improvements. “Those vary from agency to agency,” comments Lisa. Surprisingly, the most common problem is the fact that HR is not part of the accreditation team. HR doesn’t know what the accreditation standards for their function are.

When it comes to specific HR systems, Lisa notes that I-9 forms and wage withholding forms are often lacking or not filed properly.  In-service training and certifications is another area where documentation isn’t always up to standard. Finally, accreditation requires policies on progressive discipline. Agencies that cannot demonstrate that they use progressive discipline and document their disciplinary cases correctly are at a disadvantage.

To get ready for accreditation, Lisa recommends that every function (e.g. care management, scheduling, HR) in home care becomes familiar with the private duty accreditation standards and perform a self-audit ahead of the on-site survey. This will ensure that agencies are successful on their first survey visit.

In CMS-certified agencies, the accreditation standards are taken from the Conditions of Participations. They are usually more stringent on the patient care side.

Any recommendations for home care agencies considering voluntary accreditation?

Agency owners should compare the accrediting organizations’ standards to make sure these standards are feasible for their agency and that it fits with the culture. Get recommendations for other providers who have been through accreditation and what their experience was.

Accreditation is valid for 3 years. Renewal rate is 80% because agencies see the many benefits of being accredited, even when they are not required to do so.

Lisa points out that the cost of accreditation for private duty home care is lower than in skilled home health. To see if accreditation is within your budget and learn how to get started, contact Lisa Meadows or call ACHC (855) 937-2242.