School of Public Health helps Rush County Health Department be first to earn national accreditation

  • June 8, 2016


INDIANAPOLIS -- Though it ranks as the 15th-smallest county in Indiana, last week Rush County accomplished something big: Its health department became the first in Indiana to achieve national accreditation from the Public Health Accreditation Board.

To be accredited, a health department must undergo a rigorous assessment process designed to ensure it meets or exceeds public health quality standards and measures that span 12 domains of performance. Areas covered include community health assessments, disease surveillance and investigation, health education, enforcement, policy development, emergency response planning, workforce development, quality improvement, and health department management and administration.

Rush County worked closely with the IU Richard M. Fairbanks School of Public Health at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis to transform the tiny health department into one that meets the highest professional standards. Dr. Dorothy Boersma, former health officer for Rush County and a graduate of the Fairbanks School of Public Health's master's degree program, believes the collaboration with the school was a critical factor in the health department's ability to achieve accreditation ahead of the other 91 Indiana counties.

"The Fairbanks School of Public Health was extremely helpful to us in countless ways," Boersma said. "Faculty member Cindy Stone and students in her program-evaluation class helped with our first community assessment in 2009. In 2015, students in Dr. Stone's capstone class worked with us on a new community assessment. Along the way, Dr. Stone and her colleagues have provided invaluable technical assistance and support. The school is deeply committed to improving health in Indiana, and its faculty and staff have truly walked the talk in helping us achieve something that no other health department in Indiana has yet done."

Stone, a clinical associate professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management, was pleased to learn of Rush County's achievement. "Our collaboration with the Rush County Health Department has been a real win-win," she said. "We've been able to support a small county with limited resources so they can provide exceptional public health services to the nearly 17,000 people they serve. Not only does accreditation increase accountability and enhance credibility to stakeholders, it also helps health departments better prepare to respond proactively to emerging and reemerging health challenges. In helping Rush County meet PHAB's high standards, we've been able to give our students opportunities to gain valuable real-world experience doing work that makes a difference. Rush County was so impressed with one of our students that they hired her when she graduated. I'm so proud of Rush County and our students."

Rush County was one of 17 state and local governmental public health departments across the country to earn accreditation in May. A total of 134 health departments have been accredited since the program was launched in 2011. Dr. Helen Steussy, current health officer for the Rush County Health Department, is committed to maintaining the hard-earned accreditation.

Kaye Bender, president and CEO of PHAB, complimented the accredited organizations. "This cohort of accredited health departments represents the broad array of health departments serving our country's communities," she said. "Serving populations of just a few thousand to over a million, these health departments have demonstrated a commitment to excellence in serving their jurisdictions. Preparing for and achieving accreditation is hard work, but they have achieved their goal, and we congratulate them for their efforts."

The national accreditation program was created collaboratively over a 10-year period by hundreds of public health practitioners working at the national, tribal, state and local levels. Since the program's launch in September 2011, hundreds of public health departments have applied to PHAB for accreditation, and hundreds of public health practitioners from across the nation have been trained to serve as volunteer peer site visitors for the program.

Rush County, Indiana

Rush County, Indiana

Print Quality Photo

Richard Schneider
Sandy Herman
  • Fairbanks School of Public Health
  • Office 317-278-3106
  • Cell 317-439-5519