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Setting the bar higher -- ND’s Regional Human Services Centers seek accreditation

North Dakota's eight Regional Human Services Centers must attain national accreditation by July 31, 2021 to be licensed and continue providing services, per Senate Bill 2039, which amends section 50-06-05.2 of the North Dakota Century Code.

These centers--located in Dickinson, Williston, Minot, Bismarck, Devil's Lake, Jamestown, Grand Forks and Fargo--provide a variety of behavioral health services including therapy, addition and psychiatric services.

Previous to the amendment, the centers were only licensed by the state. Jeff Stenseth, Chief Operating Officer, Statewide Clinic Services, North Dakota Department of Human Services, said the move increases standards for the state's behavioral health services.

"Licensing kind of sets the minimum standards, so that's the bar you have to reach to make sure you're providing adequate service," Stenseth said. "Accreditation really goes a little bit deeper and has standards set in all kinds of areas of client care that really is trying to maximize the services that we provide... It sets the bar higher, and it challenges the organization to meet those areas."

DHS' Field Services division is looking for one accrediting body to accredit each center individually rather than seeking accreditation that encompasses all of them.

"Each center ... provides different types of services, so as we seek accreditation for different program levels, it would be a little more difficult to do it as a larger system," Stenseth said.

About two weeks ago, the soliciting window for an accrediting body closed, and they had no bids.

"When the initial request for proposal (RFP) was drafted, we had a lot of specific activities that were listed in it," Stenseth said. "That's where we got a lot of the questions. Now, we really went through it with a fine-tooth comb and have taken a lot of those and rewrote them so that they're more general in nature."

They hope to open up the bids with a revised RFP within the next two weeks.

Their ideal organization would be one that is nationally recognized and has years of experience accrediting these types of institutions.

"We provide a pretty broad continuum (of services)," Stenseth said. "We want to make sure that organization is used to accrediting programs that have multi-levels of service."

Once the organization is selected, DHS might focus on first accrediting a smaller region--Jamestown--and a larger region--Fargo.

"A lot of our policies and procedures will be consistent from region to region so any kind of changes we'd have to make to those... we could learn from the first go around and make those modifications," Stenseth said.

Once accredited, the length of accreditation varies.

"If you do really well in your first survey, you could get anywhere from a two-to-four year accreditation," he said. "If you still have work to do to improve to meet more of their standards, it appears that typically you get a one year accreditation, and then they'll come back the following year and see if you've improved upon the things that you're setting out to improve upon."

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