Social Work in the Public Eye (March 2016)

Lisa GwytherThe News & Observer in Raleigh, N.C., published an article profiling NASW member Lisa Gwyther about her journey to become an advocate for Alzheimer’s patients and their families.

Gwyther is the director of the Duke Family Support Program and associate professor at the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Duke University of Medicine.

The story notes that when Gwyther started as a social worker at Duke Medical Center in the late 1970s, awareness of the disease was minimal.

She was working at a clinic devoted to geriatric patients when a neurologist who was doing studies on Alzheimer’s started referring families to her, the story says.

When a family made a small donation to help in elder care at the hospital, Gwyther proposed using it to help Alzheimer’s patients and their loved ones. Her first step was a support group. From there, more groups were formed, as well as a newsletter and a call line, while also connecting families across the state with needed resources.

Gwyther collaborated with national advocates and became one of 30 founding members of the Alzheimer’s Association of America, the article says. She eventually became a national expert on the topic and has been active in local, state and national efforts.

The article adds that Gwyther has organized conferences for professionals involved with Alzheimer’s patients, written more than 100 articles on the topic and co-authored two books, including a best-selling guide aimed at helping nursing home workers care for Alzheimer’s patients.

Social workers across the U.S. can benefit from an online training program produced by two University of Texas at El Paso professors, according to an article posted on

Mark LuskNASW member Mark Lusk, a professor at the Department of Social Work at the University of Texas at El Paso, was credited along with Professor Silvia Chavez Baray in creating “Cultural Competency and Resilience in Social Work Practice with Hispanics,” which is available for free at

Training videos are in both English and Spanish, the story says.

“If a client comes to a therapist, and the therapist is insensitive to their cultural orientation, then they’re likely not to come back,” Lusk says in the article.

Social workers and licensed therapists are many times the first people a veteran, abused child or bipolar patient will see at a hospital, the story says.

“Yet less than 5 percent in the country are Hispanic,” the article says. “This means Spanish-speakers can’t use their preferred tongue, and the therapists listening can’t get the client to open up.”

Lusk and Baray show social workers how to help someone of Hispanic culture. Instead of focusing on the individual, which works with many white clients, therapists will learn how to incorporate family and faith in treatment, the article says.

“There are enough obstacles facing minority clients to get access to mental health, without having therapists who are insensitive and incompetent,” Lusk is quoted as saying.

The project has been funded by the Hogg Foundation for Mental Health since 2010.

After the holidays is a good time to check on how elderly loved ones are doing, according to an article published in The Daily Times in Blount County, Tenn.

Edward HarperNASW member Edward Harper, a Blount Memorial Hospital licensed clinical social worker, says because of this, the post-holiday months of January and February can become the “season of caregivers.”

“After those family visits around Thanksgiving and Christmas, January becomes a time of phone calls, texts and emails between siblings or parents and children to discuss the things they observed and experienced over the holidays,” Harper says in the article.

He explains that these conversations are important because they can serve as a consensus about the abilities of parents or elder family members. It’s also an opportunity to consider if there is a need for assistance and to discuss how the perceived need could be approached, Harper says.

Caregiving in its early stages is a progressive response to a sensing of need, which can be a confusing process, the article notes.

Harper suggests using a strategy when broaching these topics.

“When attempting to offer care to family, it can be helpful to have the opportunity to discuss the situation with a nonbiased person,” he says.

He notes that Blount Memorial Senior Services offers free consultations to allow caregivers time to discuss their situations and explore possible strategies and resources.

“These are one-on-one consultations, are confidential, and can assist the caregiver in gaining clarity of the situation and developing a plan of care for their loved ones,” Harper says.

Carla DamronDrawing on her 30 years of experience as a clinical social worker, NASW South Carolina Executive Director Carla Damron has written a new book whose characters are often ignored — such as the homeless or those suffering from mental illness, according to an article published in The State, which is based in Columbia, S.C.

Damron’s new novel, “The Stone Necklace,” is set in Columbia and was selected for this year’s One Book, One Community initiative, the article notes. The month-long, citywide reading initiative in February encourages residents to read the same book at the same time.

“I definitely got inspiration from some of the folks that I worked with,” Damron is quoted as saying. “Some of those folks, they live remarkably difficult lives. We think we have stress. Imagine having voices every day, imagine wondering where you’re going to sleep tonight because it’s going to be 28 degrees. It’s pretty astounding what they deal with every day.”

The article notes that “The Stone Necklace” follows a series of events that weave together the lives of a grieving widow, a struggling nurse, a young mother and a man who is homeless.

It explores the ways lives touch one another and how, together, people recover from even the greatest losses.

Damron told the newspaper that the book is reminiscent of the state’s recovery from the Oct. 4 floods, while focusing on issues of homelessness and access to medical and mental health care.

“It’s a rough book in places, because people go through a lot of pain, but that’s life,” Damron says in the article.