As part of our 2020 Vision and Action Plan, Spring Lake Ranch undertook a multiyear process to pursue accreditation through the Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities, which since 1966 has accredited thousands of organizations world-wide in a continuum of areas from youth programs to aging services. Following a three-day survey in late October, we received the good news in early December that our residential program had been recognized as embodying over 1,400 behavioral health standards. Our particular area of accreditation falls within programs which provide integrated care for adults with mental health and substance use disorders. Based upon extensive interviews with persons served, referring professionals, and staff; a thorough review of systems and documentation; and demonstrated measures showing efficiency, effectiveness, and a commitment to continuous quality improvement, our program was awarded the three-year accreditation, the highest rating conferred by CARF.
Next steps include completing a Quality Improvement Plan by March 31, 2021 on all the identified areas where we were either not able to show conformance to the standards through documentation or we need to beef up our efforts. Following this, CARF requires an annual document showing we are maintaining compliance until it’s time for our next survey, which will be in October 2023.
Some may wonder how accreditation differs from licensing, and why it is important. Spring Lake is licensed through the Vermont Agency of Human Services as a Therapeutic Community Residence. Our very own prior Executive Director Michael Wells had a large part in drafting the original licensing regulations years ago prior to therapeutic communities even being recognized by the state. They play an important part in protecting the rights of the individuals served and providing coherent standards of operation across a range of service providers.
Accreditation, on the other hand, provides an impartial and independent review with a broader scope than licensing. CARF standards have been developed through an International Advisory Council, in our case specific to residential mental health and substance use recovery, and applied to programs through a collaborative, consultative survey process. Indeed, CARF’s mission is to support a continuous quality improvement process in all that it does, even in the accreditation process, and as such, the survey both ensured that our program met various standards and sought to create a learning experience with opportunities to gain new ideas about how to improve.
What will accreditation bring about now that we have achieved it? For starters, it signals to our prospective families and referring professionals that Spring Lake Ranch provides care consistent with or surpassing the standards in the field. It has also brought to the forefront the development of a continuous quality improvement process which looks at information we gather about our residents’ and family experiences and feeds that back into program enhancements, staff training, and clear and relevant policies and procedures. And finally, accreditation lays the groundwork for future collaborations and partnerships, additional funding opportunities, and a path forward to expand accessibility.
The CARF survey process proved useful in identifying areas where we could improve, several of which we had already considered, but the independent verification lent support to move forward. More specifically, we will be developing additional methods of gathering input from persons served during their stay, rather than only upon discharge through satisfaction surveys, as well as having leadership review that information on a regular basis. We will also begin to look more intentionally at issues of diversity and sensitivity to the broad scope of cultures and identities of our persons served making sure we are providing an optimal environment in which recovery can occur for all. And finally, CARF emphasis on the importance of fiscal health and sound business practices will keep these priorities at the forefront to ensure sustainability and growth. As such, and in keeping with our strategic planning objectives, we will be continuing to identify initiatives and means for ensuring financial sustainability and increased accessibility.
Receiving the three-year accreditation felt like a monumental success and the culmination of a lot of hard work. It validates by an external, independent party that what we are doing is effective, ethical, and of the highest quality of care. It also reflects what those of us who live and work here already know, which is that through community, grounded in a group of highly dedicated, compassionate, and hard-working staff, the mission of Spring Lake Ranch continues to burn brightly. On the cusp of our 90th year, this little village nestled in the woods and fields of Vermont continues to provide a beacon of hope for those who find their way here.