March 21, 2003

Social Work celebrates 75th anniversary

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Kathryn Kidd and Kimberly Harris presented Denise Pepin, center, the Social Worker of the Year award during a luncheon on Monday. (photo by Dana Johnson)

Social Work celebrates 75th anniversary

Vanderbilt celebrated the 75th anniversary of the VUMC department of Social Work at a luncheon March 17 in the Medical Center North Sloan Conference Room. The occasion also marked National Social Work Month.

At the luncheon it was revealed that VUMC social workers had voted to name Denise Pepin the department’s Social Worker of the Year. Pepin accepted the award on behalf of everyone in the department. “I have such tremendous respect for my colleagues here in the department, and this award is such an honor,” she said.

Leaders offering their thanks and congratulations to the group included Norman B. Urmy, executive vice president for Clinical Affairs and CEO of Vanderbilt University Hospital; Chief Nursing Officer Marilyn Dubree; Terrell Smith, administrative director, Family-Centered Care; Assistant Hospital Director Wendy Leutgens; and Kimberley Harris, who joined Vanderbilt Feb. 17 as manager of the department of Social Work. Dr. Harry R. Jacobson, vice chancellor for Health Affairs, who was out of town, sent a letter that was read from the podium by emcee Kathryn Kidd, interim manager with the department.

Guest Speaker Deborah Valentine, Ph.D, professor and director of the School of Social Work at Colorado State University, gave a presentation on portrayals of social workers in motion pictures. Valentine’s recent study found that social workers are generally portrayed on film not as the professional advocates they are, but rather as incompetent or nefarious agents of social control.

As Kidd pointed out, in 1928 at the department’s founding there was no Medicare or Medicaid, there were no child abuse laws and no publicly funded child or adult protective services, and the disabled had no legal rights to equal access.

The department was founded by School of Medicine Dean Dr. Canby Robinson. The first director, Elizabeth Naim, helped establish a number of new social services in Nashville, including foster care and services for unwed mothers.

Seventy-five years of continuous operation turns out to be quite exceptional for hospital-based social work departments. Social workers moved out of health care for roughly three decades after World War II; post-war social convulsions and the war on poverty were opening new avenues for the contributions of social workers, and the role of nursing grew more professional in the post-war years and expanded to include social worker-type assessments and interventions.

Nationally, social workers moved back into health care in the 1970s and ‘80s, in time for the managed care revolution. Urmy remarked that the average length of stay at the first hospital he worked in was 23 days. Today at Vanderbilt the average stay is roughly five days, and these short stays have increased the pressure on social workers to determine needs and bring resources to bear on patient and family problems in a timely way.

VUMC social workers assess patients and families and assist them in coping with problems related to illness and injury, including increased stress, vocational or educational difficulties, and emotional problems. Intervention stretches through the continuum of care, helping patients and families to plug into social, psychological and community resources after discharge. VUMC social workers are at work in the community providing education, developing support systems and consulting with agencies and organizations. They’ve helped to establish community support groups for patients with long-term special needs, including local chapters of the National Paraplegic Foundation, the Spina Bifida Association and the National Lupus Society.