Led by Council of Social Work Education (CSWE) President Dr. Darla Spence Coffey, about 160 social workers were enthusiastically welcomed into the historic Dwight D. Eisenhower Executive Office Building today for a White House briefing for social workers titled: Addressing the Social Determinants of Health in a New Era: The Role of Social Work Education. Several senior White House officials participated in four panels addressing the importance of social workers as the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act moves into a new phase October 1, when the health insurance exchanges are open for business.
This was a day when those of us fortunate to receive an invitation could be especially proud to be social workers. It was a day when the value of our training and our contributions were recognized in a major way by the Obama Administration. We were greeted by Paul Monteiro from the White House Office of Public Engagement headed by Obama Administration Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett. He acknowledged the importance of the critical roles social workers must play to ensure the successful implementation of the Affordable Care Act.
The briefing consisted of four panels. The first, moderated by former CSWE board chair Mildred “Mit” Joyner, focused on the shifting demographics of the American society and the need to rethink how we do healthcare for an increasingly multiethnic population that is rapidly aging. The second panel moderated by Dr. Marilyn Luptak, an associate professor at the University of Utah’s College of Social Work, addressed new expectations of healthcare under the Affordable Care Act. Dr. Anand Parekh, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Health at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) emphasized the importance of linkages and connectors between the community and health care providers and the value of social workers in making those connections.
The third panel, moderated by Dr. Barbara Shank, dean of the School of Social Work at the University of St. Thomas, reviewed the ongoing national dialogue on mental health launched by President Barack Obama at the White House on June 3rd and role social workers can play in promoting dialogue about mental health. A new website has been launched—MentalHealth.gov—that provides information about the administration’s priorities. A highlight of the panel was the presentation by Paolo del Vecchio, Director of the Center of Mental Health Services (CMS) at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). A proud holder of the MSW degree, del Vecchi, self-disclosed about his personal triumph over mental illness. He recalled many years ago when he started working for the federal government, a concerned employee pledged to look after him. Three years later they were married and 17 years later he is in charge of one of the nation’s most important agencies. You can’t write a more inspiring script.
The fourth and probably most important panel, moderated by Dr. James Herbert Williams, dean of the University of Denver’s School of Social Work and president of the National Association of Deans and Directors, detailed CSWE’s ongoing relationship with the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA). Dr. Marcia Brand, HRSA’s Deputy Director, outlined several ongoing initiatives between the agency and CSWE including funding to support inter-professional education, the National Health Services Corps, the Mental Health Education and Training Grant Program, and Social Work and Home Visiting.
Today was an impressive display of leadership by Dr. Darla Coffey who has been at the helm of CSWE for a year. The White House seems to “get it” about the value of social work in creating a more healthy and vibrant society for all Americans—at least for today. Our job as social workers is to keep up the pressure on Congress and the federal government to do the right things.
Written By Charles E. Lewis Jr.
Congressional Research Institute for Social Work and Policy
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