Dr. Mary Currier, state health officer Credit: Mississippi Dept. of Health

The Department of Health has received national accreditation from the Public Health Accreditation Board.

Monday’s announcement marks the culmination of a rigorous four-year effort by the department that involved getting community input, assessing the strengths and weaknesses of agency policies and focusing on ways to improve quality. Altogether the agency submitted more than 13,000 pages of documents to the accrediting board.

“This is an incredible achievement for our agency, and it’s important for the state as a whole because it means we’re more accountable and credible to the public, our funders, elected officials and community partners,” said Dr. Mary Currier, the state health officer.

But it also marks a rare win for the agency, which underwent a department-wide restructuring this summer in the wake of several statewide budget cuts. In June, the agency announced that it would shutter five of its nine public health offices and reorganize into three districts, saving the agency $2 million in administrative costs.

“We’ve been through and still are in tough times. But we’ve stayed the course to achieve this. We didn’t quit. We didn’t start over. We didn’t say, ‘let’s delay it.’ We moved forward, and I am so proud of the people at this health department who made that happen,” Currier said.

Although the accreditation itself does not confer any monetary benefits, Currier said that being accredited opens the door to more grants and better funding opportunities. She also said she hoped it would show the Legislature that the department spends its funds wisely and is worth future investment.

“This is hugely important to receive this. … And I am hopeful that the Legislature will recognize the monies that the department is provided are utilized in highest quality way by competent employees,” said Dr. Luke Lampton, a member of the Board of Health.

Mississippi is the 28th state in the country to receive accreditation from the nonprofit Public Health Accreditation Board since it launched in 2011. To maintain accreditation the Department of Health will be reevaluated on the same measures every five years. Those measures, according to Currier, are maintaining data, assurance of community care and developing statewide health policies.

“This shows that we provide services that meet or exceeded all of the standards set by the national board of accreditation,” Currier said.

If the Department of Health receives more funds, Currier said, dividing the state into more public health districts would be a top priority.

“We’ve decreased from nine public health districts to three regions. And three regions is a lot for somebody to have in their span of control – having 30 counties instead of eight or nine is really tough and not as sustainable as we’d like to be. So we’d like to change that,” Currier said.

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Larrison Campbell is a Greenville native who reports on politics with an emphasis on public health. She received a bachelor’s from Wesleyan University and a master’s from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.Larrison is a 2018 National Press Foundation fellow in public health, a 2019 Blue Cross Blue Shield Foundation of Massachusetts fellow in health care reporting and a 2019 Center for Health Journalism National Fellow.