Social Work in the Public Eye (May 2015)

Kim Evanoski An article on says Alzheimer’s disease is the best-known and most common cause of dementia, affecting more than 5 million Americans.

And that number is going to get bigger and bigger, NASW member Kim Evanoski says in the article, as the population ages.

As a community “we need to help and support people …” said Evanoski, a licensed clinical social worker who specializes in working with people with dementia. She is also co-founder of the Memory Maker Project, which uses the arts, music and cultural institutions to reach out to people with memory loss and dementia. The nonprofit’s events include social gatherings at retirement centers, theaters and museums, and free events are held in the New York cities of Binghamton, Ithaca and Elmira.

Evanoski says in the article that research shows Alzheimer’s spares the part of the brain that processes emotions until the disease is late in its course.

One of the best ways to engage emotions is through the arts, the article says. It can spark conversation or a look of understanding for those who can no longer speak. Early signs of Alzheimer’s can include short-term memory loss, like forgetting words or not being able to retrace one’s steps. As the disease progresses, people with Alzheimer’s may have a change in personality, become depressed and physically weak, or lose their ability to speak.

Mary GarrisonNASW member Mary Garrison shared findings from an annual census during the yearly Affordable Housing Breakfast of the Decatur-Macon County (Illinois) Homeless Council Continuum of Care Advisory Committee, says an article on

Garrison, associate professor of social work at Millikin University in Decatur, said although the homeless population in Macon County (Illinois) has dropped over the last couple of years, the number of chronically homeless has continued to climb.

Chronically homeless is defined as someone with a disability who has had no place to stay for a year or more or who has experienced at least four episodes of homelessness in the past three years, the article says.

A point-in-time survey conducted in January identified 230 homeless people, compared with 255 in 2014 and 247 in 2013, the article says, but a larger number were chronically homeless: 74 versus 71 last year and 69 the year before.

“This is three times the national average,” Garrison says in the article. “We need to understand what is going on here.”

The survey shows that chronically homeless people overwhelmingly suffer from substance abuse and/or mental illness, Garrison says, adding that there is evidence that services could be fine-tuned to better serve the Decatur area’s specific homeless population.

An article on Think Progress says one in four adults in the U.S. suffers from a mental health issue like bipolar disorder, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. But, the article says, less than 40 percent of those people receive treatment.

The Obama administration has taken significant steps to elevate the conversation about mental health to the national stage, the article says, including the Affordable Care Act, which has expanded access for Americans to seek mental health treatment. But there are still issues, such as lack of access to treatment, as many states have not been able to keep up with demand.

Lisa FerentzNASW member Lisa Ferentz, a licensed clinical social worker in Maryland, says in the article that low coverage remains a hurdle for people who need mental health services, and the issue may be out of President Obama’s hands. Ferentz says many insurance plans are restrictive and the current insurance reimbursement system places patients at a disadvantage.

“There are many people who deserve mental health care resources but who don’t get it because they can’t access them,” she says. “Even if people want to see me, the level of reimbursement is so low it ultimately discourages them. This has been an issue for years. Many of us who have been frustrated with the insurance companies opt out so what’s left for patients is a small pool of professionals limited in experience.”

Ferentz has had to lobby insurance companies to cover her clients’ additional sessions once they reached the threshold outlined in their insurance plan, the article says. Those experiences made her realize why it’s important, she said, that insurance providers let those who suffer from mental ailments — regardless of income level — choose their therapists and duration of care without worrying about financial burden.

Barry AckersonNASW member Barry Ackerson, associate professor in social work and associate dean for academic affairs at the University of Illinois, received the 2015 Illinois NASW Lifetime Achievement Award for the East Central District.

According to an article in the Daily Illini — which serves the University of Illinois — the award honors Ackerson’s work and dedication to the fields of social work and mental health. During his time as a college senior at the University of Alabama, Ackerson worked at the Boy’s Club in Tuscaloosa. The experience helped him realize his passion for helping others, the article says, and it started him on his social work path.

“That (experience working at the Boy’s Club) helped me to understand that the studying of people in society and social problems wasn’t just an abstract thing, a theoretical thing,” Ackerson said. “It was something that I actually could become involved in, helping people day to day.”

Ackerson also says in the article he finds helping his students just as rewarding. “I’ve had a number of times when people will walk up to me at the end of their internship or they’ve been working for a year or two, and they come up to me and go, ‘Wow, that stuff I learned in your class is just so useful right now,’” Ackerson said. “To know that I’ve impacted people that way makes a difference.”

Ackerson will retire as associate dean this summer, but still plans to practice social work.

“I would describe the third part of my career as developing the next generation of social workers and that honestly gives me the biggest reward of anything,” he said. “That I can see people I have worked with ... who are now people leading the way about going out and making the world a better place and helping people.”

Pamela KeyNASW member Pamela Key is a social worker at Sojourner Truth House, a community resource and day center in Gary, Indiana, for homeless and at-risk women and children. Key participated in a “closet exchange” fundraiser at Ms. Elle’s Especially For You Boutique in Highland, Ind.

According to an article in the Chicago Tribune, the boutique’s closet exchange was a way for people to shop for the same amount of gently used items that they donated. Items included clothes, shoes and accessories.

“Today is a perfect example of ‘paying it forward,’” Key says in the article. “This is just like Lorna (boutique owner) — she’s always looking out for us and others in the community.”

The clothing left over from the closet exchange was donated to Haven House in Hammond, Ind., the article says. Ticket donation money went to Ms. Elle’s Scholarship Fund and Triumphant Transitions Inc.