Recognizing 100 years of Social Work at BWH
Laura Lubetsky, MSW, LICSW
The Social Work Department celebrated its 100th anniversary at BWH with a dinner on Sept. 18.
Addressing the social workers, Jackie Somerville, PhD, RN, chief nursing officer and senior vice president of Patient Care Services, stated, ”You, by the work you do, support our inclusive mission—to ensure every patient, family and employee who enters the doors of BWH feels welcomed and cared for.”
Presenters touched on five themes, including history, with Social Work at BWH being almost as old as the profession itself; evolution to the profession’s position today as an indispensible part of patient care; the profession’s roots and ongoing commitment to social justice; compassion of the BWH team of social workers; and BWH’s ongoing leadership in training future practitioners on the cutting-edge of professional practice.
Martha B. Burke, MSW, ACSW, LICSW, current Social Work director, saluted her colleagues for their dedication to patients and families. “As ‘Brigham strong’ social workers, you have inherited a rich legacy and have helped build upon our profession. Be the guardians of this legacy, as change agents for our patients and their families, for the profession and for yourselves. In addition to your day jobs . . . you raise the bar of social work excellence with your local, national and international presentations, publications, poster sessions, teaching and service as faculty field advisors to graduate students. You co-founded a summer camp for children with epilepsy. You volunteer for charitable and community agencies. You teach and build homes in Guatemala. You teach in Ethiopia. You founded an orphanage in Zimbabwe, Africa. Who are you? You are professionally trained clinical social workers.”
Burke reminded social workers that their professional roots began at BWH with the hiring of Alice M. Cheney exactly 100 years ago. Cheney, a pioneer in hospital social work, eventually became the first director of Social Work at Peter Bent Brigham Hospital. She realized “the critical importance of not only the medical aspects of illness, but the social and emotional aspects and their impact on health, treatment and recovery,” said Burke. As Cheney said in 1920, “In most cases, the health of the family depends on the social well-being of its members.”
Susan Larrabee, MSW, LICSW, a social worker in the Infectious Disease Service, spoke movingly about her 25 years at BWH, beginning as a social work student. In a speech entitled “Why I Stayed,” she paid homage to her colleagues and to the opportunities BWH provided for professional development. At the heart of Larrabee’s reflections was a deeply personal account of serving as a medicine social worker during the AIDS epidemic in order “to be part of the very personal war on AIDS.” Her account captured social work’s professional ethos of empathy for and commitment to the hospital’s patients and their families.
“I stayed because the HIV team allowed me to be a leader on par with physicians and nurses in my contributions,” Larrabee said. “I have never wondered about my value on this extraordinary multidisciplinary team.”
A “Blue Ribbon Award Committee” established as part of the centennial celebration recognized the individual contributions of the BWH social workers. Each received a personalized certificate that included a quotation from a nurse, doctor or other colleague on their service, paying tribute to the social worker’s unique contributions to the team.
Carol Trust, executive director of the National Association of Social Workers Massachusetts Chapter, presented a proclamation signed by Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh declaring Sept. 18 “BWH Social Work Day.”