Today, Louisiana health officials unveiled their plan, in development since February 2012, for enhancing the state's health inspection process for retail food establishments.
In a news conference, Department of Health Office of Public Health Assistant Secretary J.T. Lane detailed the department's four-point improvement plan, which focuses on implementing new management tools statewide; centralizing and standardizing the inspection process; adding performance metrics to health inspectors' annual performance evaluations; and streamlining the process of issuing compliance orders. OPH will roll this plan out in stages over the next year.
"In February, we took aggressive steps to begin assessing our processes and implemented a pilot project in the field that would improve performance and productivity, with real-time measurements to evaluate how we are doing," Lane said. "Through our work with Lean Six Sigma, which is a business strategy designed to increase productivity, efficiency and effectiveness, we've developed a data-driven approach to make our health inspection program one of the strongest in the country."
The plan will maximize the productivity of the state health inspector staff, who conduct more than 69,500 inspections each year, and standardize operations. In the nine parishes that were part of the pilot for this program, on average, productivity more than doubled, and past due inspections decreased by 33 to 44 percent.
The four parts of the plan include:
- The LDH Office of Public Health has developed two new management tools and routines -- a scheduler and a daily meeting followed up with an action plan -- that will be implemented in all parishes, allowing health inspectors to better track and address retail food inspections, identifying those that have not been completed per the established risk criteria schedule and prioritizing them accordingly.
- The health inspection and reporting process is becoming centralized, with all staff reporting to the state office effective this month, which will standardize the inspection process across the regions, creatinga better system for monitoring and providing information about inspections.
- The Office of Public Health will add metrics to annual performance evaluations for health inspectors, so that staff statewide have consistency and are clear on what expectations are for the number of inspections they should be conducting daily.
- The health department has streamlined the process for issuing compliance orders, which are issued against owners of retail food establishments that have violations noted during health inspections and are not taking any corrective action. The health department is taking steps to add a judicial component to this process, which will hold business owners in contempt of court should they not pay their fees.
Beginning in January, OPH will spend the first quarter of 2013 focused on inventory analysis and staff training on the new management tools, which are a critical component of the Statewide rollout. In April, the scheduler tool and daily production meetings will be implemented in each parish, with these fully functional and operating as intended by the end of June. By September, these tools will be fully adopted and the current workforce to meet the inspection demand. OPH leadership anticipates the backlog of overdue inspections will be clear and proceed on a schedule of U.S. Food & Drug Administration recommendations, which calls for a varying number of annual inspections based on risk factors affecting health and safety.
"We are deeply committed to the safety and health of some of our State's most valued treasures, our people and our restaurants and food establishments," said Lane. "Restaurants provide great food and jobs in our communities, and the best way for us to support both consumers and establishments is to ensure they are offering a safe bite to eat."
For more information on the health inspection process, and to see how to contact a health inspector to report a concern, visit www.eatsafe.la.gov.
The Louisiana Department of Health strives to protect and promote health statewide and to ensure access to medical, preventive and rehabilitative services for all state citizens. To learn more about LDH, visit http://www.dhh.louisiana.gov. For up-to-date health information, news and emergency updates, follow LDH's blog, Twitter account and Facebook.