Streamlining Local Health Department Inspections and Permitting

Mississippi State D, ... ]

Mississippi State D, ... ] Rogelio V. Solis / AP Photo


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No two agencies are alike, which made designing a software solution for preconfigured forms and procedures difficult in the past.

Local health departments protect residents by ensuring the safety of manmade structures and natural resources through inspections and permitting, but those business practices vary greatly across jurisdictions.

Typically states tap counties to oversee public health, but sometimes cities handle those programs and services or else several jurisdictions come together to form a health district.

The incongruity in the scope and scale of health departments makes a one-size-fits-all data management platform an awkward fit for some, which is why San Ramon, California-based software company Accela moved last week to a packaged solution for automating permitting, inspections and resolving complaints.

“[Health departments] think they’re the same,” said Darryl Booth, general manager of environmental health at Accela. “But when you go to implement, they all end up being kind of different.”

Accela developed its new Civic Application for Environmental Health by treating its approximately 130 health department customers’ forms, procedures and practices like a library from which it preconfigured workflows, permit types, user alerts, field worker tasks and reports.

That way the inspection and permitting of things like restaurants, septic systems, childcare facilities and swimming pools can be more easily repeated—saving agency time and money. Endless subject matter expert meetings will no longer be necessary, Booth said

Automated task routing and project status notifications improve transparency for facility owners and will help speed up the reopening of, say, a restaurant after an unsatisfactory inspection.

“As ongoing operations process your lexicon, it will become more similar to your neighboring health departments’,” Booth said. “That, in turn, creates a shared language.”

And a shared language makes it more likely that health departments will share staff in emergency response situations and create joint reports, he added.

A second version of the application is planned for the late spring, early summer and a third version for a to-be-determined release. A second version will add options for automation in specialty programs.

“Sometimes health departments take up responsibilities that are not traditionally theirs or unique to their geography, Booth said.

Dave Nyczepir is a News Editor at Route Fifty and is based in Washington, D.C.

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