September 24, 2018

School of Social Work Broadens Scope of Health at Annual Conference

The Seventh Annual Social Work Summit centered on ''Healthy Communities: Broadening the Lens of Healthcare, Equity and Policy.'' Photo courtesy of the University of St. Thomas.

This article originally appeared on the St. Thomas Newsroom on September 20, 2018.

More than 200 educators, students, social workers and health care practitioners gathered at St. Catherine University on Aug. 7 for the Seventh Annual Summit on Emerging Issues in Social Work Practice.

For the first time the summit was a day-long event, featuring a keynote, a panel and group discussions all centering on “Healthy Communities: Broadening the Lens of Healthcare, Equity and Policy.”

“We wanted people to be getting to action, to move them forward in a way that inspires them to act in their own area,” said Lisa Richardson, the School of Social Work’s director of MSW Field Education and one of the summit’s main organizers.

That emphasis complimented well the summit’s goal of broadening the scope of what creates health to include social determinants of health (housing, food, education, structural racism, etc.), calling for everyone present to be willing to work across systems that can mistakenly be seen as disparate.

“Speakers talked about the need for collaboration and dialogue, to push past barriers and push the lines,” said social work faculty member Stacy Husebo. “Social workers are in all these settings: care happens in medical care centers, but it happens in schools, all across communities; all of these things are intersecting around well being.”

Building out of the state’s comprehensive 2017 Statewide Health Assessment, speakers and conversations throughout the day underscored that point. Jeannette Raymond, community engagement supervisor of the Center for Public Health Practice in the Minnesota Department of Health, provided a keynote address, and spoke with several others in a panel, including: Jennifer DeCubellis, deputy county administrator of Health and Human Services for Hennepin County; Lisa Skjefte, health equity specialist and American Indian community liaison for Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota; Adair Mosley, president and CEO of Pillsbury United Communities; and Bruce Thao, director of Center for Health Equity in the Minnesota Department of Health.

Bruce Thao, director for the Center for Health Equity at the Minnesota Department of Health presents during the Seventh Annual Summit on Emerging Issues in Social Work Practice at St. Catherine University in St. Paul, Aug. 7, 2018.

“We have to all come together across the intersections of what we do, regardless of whether you’re in health in terms of health care, or education, or other types of social services. It all impacts health,” Thao said. “Helping people understand that definition and what [health] means, how broad it is … it’s that opportunity to define our own health. We have to understand it for our own health and our communities.”

Summit attendees gathered in the afternoon for discussions within the topics of advocacy, community-based initiatives, clinical care initiatives, and education-based initiatives. The summit’s expanded offerings this year were thanks in large part to a grant from Social Work Healthcare Education and Leadership (HEALS): The SSW is one of 10 schools in the nation supported by the program, which funds $110,000 worth of scholarships over 5 years, supporting four undergraduate and graduate students each year with tuition and travel stipends, and awarded extra funds in 2018 to schools to host an event around health policy.

“The summit really provides that opportunity to listen to what’s going on, and create space for people to talk, ask questions, find others’ experience and make connections with people they haven’t connected with,” said SSW assistant professor Carey Winkler. “It’s such a nice parallel to the specific topic. We could stay in our silos and notice that there are these connections and not come to the table to do something about it, or we can work together across those lines. The five speakers [in the panel presentation] brought that together in a beautiful way.”

By Jordan Osterman