Our recent blog on the true cost of healthcare ignited a robust response from social workers who specialize in public health. This relatively new but growing social work specialty stresses a socio-epidemiological approach to the prevention and management of the chronic diseases that plague our society.
Public health social workers (PHSW) play a leading role in directly preventing and helping manage health issues such as diabetes, tobacco use, HIV/AIDS, suicide and substance abuse. Here’s what they are saying about some of these issues:
The Escalating Cost of Healthcare in America
PHSW #1: “The aging of the baby boomers will require innovative collaboration as this population moves into retirement, has longer life expectancies and suffers from chronic disease. Only a proactive approach to managing this crisis by social workers trained in public health will offer viable solutions.”
PHSW #2: “Public health social work blends the preventive aspect of public health and the problem-solving orientation of social work. The knowledge, skills and values of the two professions coalesce in public health social work and support contributions to research, policy analysis, program development, direct service provision and administration.”
PHSW #3: “Can you imagine what we could do if even 10% of social workers engaged in prevention? We will only be powerful in our impact if we use public health science, work collaboratively across professions, market and rebrand ourselves as ready to do the latter, push past our hyper-focus on individual treatment and measure outcomes. Otherwise, we will not be able to rein in our healthcare costs.”
PHSW #4: “People interested in pursuing careers in public health social work, which has a history of promoting preventive services, now have the opportunity to work within communities around the country looking to develop preventive services. Imagine the impact on public health if an army of public health social workers were set free to develop anti-smoking campaigns among young people, AA referral services, weight loss programs for corporations, nutrition counseling services, addiction prevention programs in schools and routine medical checkup programs, just to name a few.”
PHSW #5: “Given that primary prevention helps people live longer and more fulfilling lives than other forms of prevention, the ACA contains provisions that could help place new public health social workers in careers where they can have a positive effect on promoting health and well-being, not solely working to eliminate the negative effects that arise from a lack of healthcare access.”
Health Care Cost Control
PHSW #5: “The ACA has the potential to influence social work to open up to wide-lens approaches such as prevention and public health social work. It has a triple aim to better patient care, decrease the cost curve and improve population health outcomes. Public health social work addresses, in particular, the population health goals of the ACA. Population health can only be improved through the use of prevention and public health measures. Thus, social work that focuses on population-level improvements is critical to the ACA’s success.”
Healthcare policy must continue to support the expansion of the public health specialty in social work education. There’s a long tradition of a shared history between public health and social work going back to the original progressive settlement houses.
The Henry Street Settlement in New York and Hull House in Chicago were the birthplaces of both social work and public health. The current uncertain status of the ACA should have no impact on the country’s commitment to improving public health and containing healthcare costs by supporting the expansion of the Public Health Social Work specialty.