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Suicide Prevention Advocate Dr. Virna Little receives Knee/Wittman Outstanding Achievement Award

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The National Association of Social Workers Foundation (NASWF) is pleased to announce that social worker Dr. Virna Little will receive a Knee/Wittman Outstanding Achievement Award for her pioneering work in saving lives by integrating suicide prevention into primary and behavioral health care. 

Virna Little, PsyD, LCSW-R, SAP, CCM, recently joined The Center for Innovation in Mental Health (CIMH) at City University of New York (CUNY) School of Public Health as Associate Director for Clinical Innovation. Prior to assuming this position, Dr. Little served as senior vice president of psychosocial services and community affairs  for more than 20 years at the Institute for Family Health, one the largest federally qualified, community health center in New York State. The Institute serves about 100,000 clients each year. 

Dr. Little has launched many initiatives at the Institute to help prevent people from dying by suicide, including a screening protocol to identify people who may be depressed and considering suicide. This protocol has allowed hundreds of people to get proper assessment, treatment and follow up. 

“Dr. Little has been a true visionary in adopting Zero Suicide Institute principles at the Institute For Family Health,” said NASWF Director Robert Arnold. “Her work has literally saved the lives of scores of people and served as an example of how this nation can significantly reduce deaths by suicide.” 

The Knee/Wittman Awards recognize individuals who are models of excellence and have made significant contributions in the field of health and mental health. The Knee/Wittman Award Program was established in 1990 to recognize those who represent the values, ethics, and approaches exemplified by two dedicated social work pioneers, Ruth Knee and Milton Wittman.  

The Outstanding Achievement Award is presented to an individual who has had a significant impact on national health or mental health public policy, professional standards or program models. 

Dr. Little’s work is deserving of this award. One of her long-standing goals has been to use electronic health record technology to identify and treat people who are at risk of suicide in a community health setting. That is because studies have proven that patients who die by suicide often see their primary care provider weeks or months before death. Her recently published work shows patients at risk for suicide are more likely to be active users of patient portals. 

Dr. Little also championed adoption of the Zero Suicide Initiative. The initiative seeks to promote suicide prevention as a core component of health care services. 

 “Dr. Little is a shining example of how social workers can bring their expertise into the health care sector and improve systems so that clients can get better mental health care and people who are contemplating suicide can get the care they need to recover and lead fulfilling lives,” Arnold said.

Learn more about the Knee/Wittman Awards.

The National Association of Social Workers Foundation (NASWF) is a charitable organization created to enhance the well-being of individuals, families, and communities through the advancement of social work practice.