UI prof recognized for social-work contributions

UI Associate Professor Mercedes Bern-Klug given national award.

By Zach Weigel

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After more than 30 years of research, advocacy, and involvement in social work, a University of Iowa School of Social Work associate professor has been recognized.

Mercedes Bern-Klug, who is also the director of the Aging Studies Program, has been awarded the Knee/Wittman Outstanding Achievement Award by the National Association of Social Workers Foundation.

The award recognizes her as a person who has had a significant effect on national-health or mental-health public policy, professional standards, or exemplary program models.

“The Foundation is proud to bestow this honor upon Dr. Bern-Klug,” association director Robert Carter Arnold said. “Ms. Bern-Klug is a recognized leader and researcher on nursing home and end-of-life care. Her work has been the driving force in advancements in social-work care for people who are older and has influenced state and national legislation and regulations.”

Bern-Klug, an aging expert, said shehas analyzed and strengthened social-work service delivery and training and improved palliative and end-of-life care for adults who are older, say those in the field.

She said she is pleased that her award brings attention to social work.

“Our School of Social Work has really taken a leadership role,” she said. “It’s good to see that the work is valued.”

Bern-Klug has studied the dying process and written extensively about it, in addition to actively helping others. Social work associate professor Ed Saunders said her role as a social worker of gerontology, the study of the aspects of aging, has affected many. He nominated her for the award.

“She is one of the School of Social Work’s most nationally prominent gerontology professors,” he said. “In her research, she learned that most nursing homes did not have professional social workers to help families and residents manage the transition to nursing-home care and then help everyone cope with the new reality.

“She ‘walked the walk’ in providing humane care for older persons; she cared for her own mother for many years.”

School of Social Work director Sara Sanders said she knows that Bern-Klug deserves the award.

“I’ve known her since the early 2000s, when we were both involved in the Harford Doctoral Fellows Program, and she was already a leader then,” Sanders said.

Sanders said she believes Bern-Klug’s record as a seasoned social worker stands out.

“I always admired her and looked up to her, because she worked [as a social worker] many years before going back to get her Ph.D.,” she said. “We are so lucky to have her here at Iowa because she is really the impetus and energy behind the national movement to improve social work.”

Citing the need for highly trained social workers, Sanders said, Bern-Klug “is really changing the field by increasing the visibility of social work.”

“Mercedes embodies what it means to be an Iowan,” Sanders said. “She always enters ice cream into the State Fair,” plus she is well-versed in local county fairs and town events.

“We need social work right here in Iowa, but also locally and especially internationally,” Sanders said. “Developing countries will face major changes as their populations live longer, and they don’t have the time or resources that we have.”

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