Characteristics of Nursing Home Social Services Directors: How Common is a Degree in Social Work?

Mercedes Bern-Klug, Katherine W.O. Kramer, Grace Chan, Rosalie Kane, Lorraine T. Dorfman, Jennifer B. Saunders

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Scopus citations


Purpose: To report the percentage of nursing homes whose social services director has a degree in social work, to report the characteristics of social service directors, and to describe the characteristics of nursing homes most likely to employ a degreed social worker. These questions are important because social workers are core members of the interdisciplinary team in nursing homes and have responsibilities for the psychosocial well-being of residents. Design and Methods: Cross-sectional nationally representative survey of 1071 social service directors employed in US nursing homes certified to receive Medicare and/or Medicaid. Results: Most nursing homes do employ at least one (and typically only one) social service staff person. Most are employed full-time and half have a degree in social work. About 20% do not have a college degree. The vast majority of social service directors are white and are women. Close to 40% are licensed social workers. Full-time salaries varies enormously from less than $15,000 to over $60,000 per year. Most do not belong to an organization that helps them keep apprised of developments in nursing home social services. Using logistic regression and controlling for the effects of other independent variables, for-profit nursing homes with fewer than 121 beds, in sparsely populated counties in the West are the least likely to hire a degreed social worker as social service director. Implications: The wide range in educational preparedness and salary indicates 2 roles: a social work role and a social services role. The different roles have implications for initial role preparation and continuing education. Clear communication about the role expectations associated with social services and social work would benefit residents, family, staff, and physicians, who would then be better prepared to draw on their skills in helping to meet the psychosocial needs of residents.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)36-44
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of the American Medical Directors Association
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2009

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This project was supported by a John A. Hartford Geriatric Social Work Faculty Scholars Award to Dr. Bern-Klug. Drs. Kane and Dorfman served as mentors on the Hartford Project. Additional support was provided through awards from the Old Gold Summer Fellowship and the Obermann Center for Advanced Studies, both of the University of Iowa. The authors would like to acknowledge assistance from social work students Peggy Sharr, Inez Cruz, and LaTiche Bush-Lane.

Copyright 2018 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • Nursing home
  • nursing facility
  • psychosocial
  • quality of life
  • social services
  • social work


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