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McCarthy Helps Lead National Discourse on Social Welfare Policy

September 8, 2009

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UAlbany's Mary McCarthy was elected to the NASW board.

Mary McCarthy, director of the Social Work Education Consortium of UAlbany's School of Social Welfare, was elected to the board of the National Association of Social Workers. (Photo Mark Schmidt)

Social workers serve a key role in providing mental health services. When there has been a fatal accident, it is often the social worker who meets the family in the emergency room. These health care professionals serve on child abuse reporting teams for hospitals and with crisis units to evaluate the mental health status of people needing emergency care.

According to Mary McCarthy, director of the Social Work Education Consortium of UAlbany's School of Social Welfare, social workers are an integral part of the debate over health care reform. "Social workers are the largest providers of mental health services in the nation," said McCarthy, quoting from a briefing book prepared for the Obama administration by the National Association of Social Workers (NASW).

McCarthy was recently elected as the Region III representative to the national social work organization, representing New York State outside of New York City.

"NASW has been at the forefront of health care reform for more than 20 years," said McCarthy. "The association was one of the first to propose a single payer system for the country."

Her new post will bring enhanced visibility to the University at Albany. As a board member of NASW, she will interact with professional social workers around the nation.

"This service reflects positively on the School and University as both support faculty who make national service a part of their work life," McCarthy said.

School of Social Welfare Dean Katharine Briar-Lawson said, "Mary is a recent past president of the New York State Chapter of NASW, where she focused on building membership among the 10 state divisions. She will continue this work at the national level. Her selection to the NASW board helps expand UAlbany's leadership at the national level."

With its graduate program in social welfare ranked 12th in the nation by U.S. News & World Report, UAlbany is recognized for its research and teaching in social work policy.

"This is an exciting time to serve on the national board as the country is working on major policy initiatives around health care," McCarthy said. She said inequitable access to health care creates a form of institutionalized discrimination that reduces quality of life for many people.

As for the heated debate over health care reform, McCarthy said, "We are reacting to myths and misperceptions instead of thinking and discussing health care in a more rational way. It is a shame that discourse and civil debate are being shunned in favor of angry diatribes."

She cited a recent Washington Post article by T.J. Reid disputing myths Americans might believe about health care systems in Europe.

McCarthy said the long-term solution to eradicating health inequities involves addressing the social determinants of health including socioeconomic status, neighborhood, employment conditions, access to health care, ethnicity, and personal behaviors.

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