A Message from Interim Dean Vicky Rizzo

Interim Dean Vicky Rizzo at her desk

As the new academic year began, The School of Social Welfare underwent change in leadership. Dr. Lynn Warner for personal reasons stepped down as the Dean of SSW and will return to faculty. I accepted an appointment as the Interim Dean beginning September 2022. I want to thank Dr. Warner for her leadership and stewardship of the SSW since 2018. I consider it an honor and a privilege to serve as the SSW Interim Dean in a time of considerable national and international unrest. SSW’s commitment to issues of social justice is more important than ever and “action” is imperative in service to society and the profession in areas each of us identify as important to us.

Earlier this semester, Alyssa Lotmore and Dr. Eric Hardiman interviewed me in my role as the Interim Dean for the Social Workers Talk Radio podcast. You can access the link here to learn about me, my vision for the SSW and my work with the National Association of Social Workers, New York State Chapter, and the NYS Deans Association. I am a proud alum of the School of Social Welfare, earning my MSW in 1990 and my Ph.D. in 2002. I have been a social worker for 32 years, starting my career as a health care social worker at Sunnyview Rehabilitation Hospital in Schenectady, NY. During my time at Sunnyview, I identified health inequalities related to health insurance status, socioeconomic status, and race/ethnicity status.  These inequities resulted in decreased access to health care services, decreased health care utilization, and decreased well-being and quality of life for clients and their families.  As a result of these observations coupled with my work with SSW students as a field instructor, I decided to return to the SSW to earn my Ph.D. My research, beginning with my dissertation, has examined the value of social workers as members of interdisciplinary teams in relation to health care utilization, health care outcomes, and health care efficiencies for older adults at the intersection of chronic illness, caregiving, and elder abuse. My goal is to use the positive outcomes of my research to make the case for increased reimbursement of social work services in the areas of care coordination, case management, and behavioral health services. The integration of social care into health care is critical to improving the nation’s health. For more on this, see the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine report.

My vision for the SSW is to provide education at the BSW, MSW and Ph.D. levels to train a workforce equipped to deal with the social justice challenges of our time in a quickly changing environment. We are also dealing with mental health, child welfare, and health care workforce crises. SSW is positioned to train social workers to fill the workforce gap. We are revising our MSW curriculum and developing an interdisciplinary undergraduate social justice major to continue our mission to train the workforce. We will also continue our community-engaged research endeavors to inform practice and address needs identified by the communities and individuals we serve as well as our agency partners.

I am also working to advance the social work profession as the Board President of the NASW-NYS Chapter. Social work licensing and pay are ongoing issues nationally and in our state. The data released by the Association of Social Work Boards regarding social work licensing exam passage rates suggests racial and ageist biases. These biases create barriers for the populations we are hoping to attract to our profession. This is a social justice issue. We are working with the New York Association of Deans, the National Association of Deans, and Social Workers for Justice NY to build a coalition to eliminate the LMSW examination as a requirement for LMSW licensure in NYS and instead use the receipt of the MSW degree from a CSWE accredited MSW program as the requirement necessary for licensure at the LMSW level. Illinois and Rhode Island have successfully passed legislation to eliminate the first level of examination for licensure. If successful, this legislation will expand and diversify our work force to better serve communities and clients. Also, the NASW-NYS will soon release a salary report we hope to use to introduce bills to increase social work salaries in the next legislative session. Increased salaries are necessary to address the workforce crises we are experiencing.

I am delighted to serve as the SSW Interim Dean and I look forward to engaging with you in the service of the SSW, our agency partners and most importantly the clients and communities we serve.