I typically speak with ten to fifteen people a month who are seeking assistance with CARF accreditation.  The majority of the conversations are spent assisting individuals with defining their organization’s needs and determining what type of assistance they are seeking.  On more occasions than not, inquires about my qualifications (knowledge, education, and experience) are not initiated by the interested party, yet they are willing to begin the consultation process. The majority of these folks tend to be in pressured situations, such as a state accreditation mandate threatening the existence of their business, and seem willing to move forward without doing their due diligence. In the interest of assisting those of you who are seeking assistance with CARF accreditation, the following is a list of factors that a consumer of such services should consider when making a decision about hiring a consultant, and/or purchasing accreditation resources and materials.

  • Are they now, or have they been a CARF surveyor? There are CARF consultants who have not been surveyors that provide appropriate services. More common are non-surveyor consultants who enter the business to take advantage of a state mandate, as there is opportunity for a financial windfall in such situations. It is typical that such entities utilize the pressure felt by the mandated organization to “leverage” their sales with interested parties, which often result in the delivery of sub-standard services and products. On many occasions, I have been hired to move an organization forward after they have spent tens of thousands of dollars on goods and services that did not provide them with the means to meet their accreditation needs. My bottom line criteria in this area: Although there are no guarantees, it is probably a safer bet if your consultant is a CARF surveyor and/or has at least five years of past experience surveying organizations. If you are purchasing documents, resources, and/or materials from an organization, the same applies.
  • How have their supportive documents, tools, and resources been developed? It is amazing how many folks in this business are selling goods to assist with obtaining accreditation that have been obtained from outside sources (begged, borrowed, or stolen), and have not been developed through experience in the field, education about the process, and a knowledge of the accreditation standards. Very few consumers of accreditation consultation services realize that their use of materials provided by many consultants can expose them to financial loss due to copyright violations. My bottom line criteria in this area: Make sure your consultant has authored the materials provided, that a detailed copyright user’s agreement is part of any contract you sign prior to payment for services, and that all materials received contain a copyright/ownership notice. Anything outside of these parameters, such as the consultant having permission to use materials they have not authored, should be detailed in the contract.
  • Is the focus of services the sale and delivery of policies, procedures, forms, tools, and resources? “CARF in a Box” rarely works over the long-term if not combined with an organization’s participation in an internal process involving integration of the standards of accreditation within its day-to-day operational functions and structure. My bottom line criteria in this area: Don’t even consider purchasing documents “to meet the CARF standards” from a consultant or business without: (1) A clear understanding of the difference between the content (documents) and the process (the standards of accreditation embedded within the organizational culture and operations); (2) Establishing a relationship with the seller that ensures some level of mentoring, coaching, education, and training is available and can be delivered competently by the vendor of the products, if needed.
  • How long have they been in business? This is not a “make or break” factor, but one that may be important to investigate. If the consultant has been a CARF surveyor for 20 years, is recently retired from their “day job” at a CARF accredited organization, but has not been in business for very long, you may be good to go. Again, ask and check references. My bottom line criteria in this area: If they have been in business for less than five years, have never been a CARF surveyor, and can’t produce at least three solid references from past clients, proceed at your own high risk.
  • What is their education and background related to accreditation consultation? Would you buy a “how to” manual to remodel your house from a company who lacks education, training, and experience in remodeling houses? My bottom line criteria in this area: A legitimate CARF consultant, or organization that is selling accreditation materials and resources, should have been actively and consistently involved in ongoing CARF accreditation education and training over the past five years. In addition to participating in training, they should be able to provide documentation of being a recognized provider of accreditation-related education and training over the past five years, in addition to authoring accreditation-related published articles in trade journals and magazines.
  • What do their current and former clients say about them? It is too late to seek the level of satisfaction of the consultant’s past customers after you have sunk $20,000 to $25,000 into a “pay us first and we will guarantee you  a three-year accreditation ” scam. My bottom line criteria in this area: Get at least two, if not three references of persons the consultant/company has worked with during the past 12-to-18 months. When you contact the references, ask questions such as: Did they deliver the services at a level that met your expected outcomes? Did the services prove to be beneficial in relation to the cost? Were they available when clarification and support was needed to continue moving forward with the accreditation process? With what you now know about their services, would you hire them again?

Although there are additional factors to consider when hiring a CARF accreditation consultant, if you follow the guidelines I have noted you should be in a good position to have a positive experience and get your needs met. I personally know six CARF consultants/consulting organizations (out of the 100’s that now exist) that meet the criteria I have suggested for ensuring a qualified professional assists you with your accreditation process. During times when a scheduling conflict or an immediate need of a potential client does not allow me to enter into a business relationship to provide accreditation services, I confidently refer the person to another qualified professional. Do your homework folks. The old saying “You only get what you pay for” is not an applicable approach to hiring an accreditation consultant or purchasing accreditation resources.