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**Although PHS did solicit the services of social workers as early as 1921, there is no official documentation or record of PHS appointing social workers as commissioned officers until 1949. However, the timeline below demonstrates the historical involvement of the social work profession with PHS.
1921 - The first social worker employed by PHS was Elizabeth G. Gardiner at the US Marine Hospital, Ellis Island, NY, where immigrant patients and merchant seaman were treated.
1923 - A year after Elizabeth G. Gardiner’s appointment, the second social worker was assigned to the Hudson Street Station to provide outpatient social services.
1944 - During World War II, social workers were employed by the War Shipping Administration to provide service to patients in Marine Hospitals and Clinics. The addition of special hospitals for the treatment of tuberculosis and narcotic addiction resulted in the utilization of clinical social work in the fields of chronic illness and drug abuse.
1945 - A social worker was assigned as medical social consultant to the Division of Tuberculosis. Post War II demonstrated major developments into the spread of social work services through out various functions in PHS.
1949 - Daniel O’Keefe was the first social worker to be appointed as a PHS commissioned officer.
1950 - The headquarter staff at the National Institute of Mental Health employed three psychiatric social workers in community services, training and planning.
1951 - PHS employed 36 civil servant and 9 commissioned social workers. Most were assigned to the Division of Hospitals and Clinics, the Division of Chronic Disease and TB, and National Institute of Mental Health.
1967 - St. Elizabeth’s Hospital was transferred to the National Institute of Mental Health and employed approximately 50 social workers in PHS roles. The Hospital’s early mission, as defined by its founder and leading mental health reformer Dorothea Dix, was to provide the “most humane care and enlightened curative treatment of the insane of the Army, Navy and District of Columbia.” St. Elizabeth’s Hospital has had a distinguished history in the treatment of the mentally ill.
1969 - As the sixties drew to a close, there was continued growth of social workers in PHS as both civil servants and commissioned officers, whom primarily functioned in child health programs administered by the Children’s Bureau, established in 1912.
1973 - Social worker’s functioning in the Child Health programs, which was administered by the Children’s Bureau, was split off and realigned under PHS.
1978 - The 150 social workers who functioned in the medical and community mental health programs were engaged in direct clinical practice, leadership roles in administration, policy development, program coordination, or health planning and consultation.
1979 - PHS had employed about 400 civil servants and 128 commissioned social workers, approximately 1% of its total man power force of about 50,000.
Today….there are104 Commissioned Social Workers in the PHS. They serve in a variety of functions such as policy making, program development and coordination, research and technical assistance, and treatment services in direct clinical settings.