The Columbia University School of Social Work (CUSSW) announces the addition of two distinguished scholars to its faculty on July 1, 2012: Dr. Leopoldo J. Cabassa, an expert in racial and ethnic disparities in mental health care, and Dr. Heidi Allen, a specialist in health policy and health reform.

“Dr. Cabassa is conducting research on important issues that have been at the forefront of health and mental health care concerns in a nation that is becoming increasingly more diverse,” said CUSSW Dean Jeanette Takaamura. “It is widely known that underserved racial and ethnic minorities face significant challenges when they are in need of health and mental health services, which all too frequently are not readily accessible because of language and cultural differences. He comes to us with the expertise and passion to help forge a path towards the elimination of disparities that should not exist.”

Turning to Dr. Allen’s work, Dean Takamura said that her presence at the School would strengthen its ability to contribute to and shape policy discourse about health care financing and the impact of different options upon the uninsured in the U.S.: “Dr. Allen has had rich experiences as a research scientist with studies that have examined aspects of the Medicaid program and of the impacts of health insurance plan expansions.”

Dean Takamura added that both Drs. Cabassa and Allen have taught courses of great interest to graduate social work students. “We look forward to their enriching the learning of our aspiring professionals-in-training,” she said. “I am delighted to welcome them both as full-time faculty members.”

Dr. Leopoldo J. Cabassa has been an Assistant Professor of Clinical Psychiatric Social Work (in Psychiatry) in the Department of Psychiatry at Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons. He currently serves as the Assistant Director of the New York State Center of Excellence for Cultural Competence at the New York State Psychiatric Institute (PI), as well as a research scientist with the Research Foundation for Mental Hygiene at PI.

Dr. Cabassa’s research focuses on the causes of racial and ethnic disparities in health and mental health care. His long-term career goal is to establish an independent program of research focused on the implementation of integrated physical and mental health services to improve the physical health of underserved racial and ethnic minorities with serious mental illness.

Dr. Cabassa has received support for his work from the National Institute of Mental Health and the New York State Office of Mental Health. He was recently awarded an NIMH Mentored Research Scientist Development Award (K01) to examine the implementation of health care interventions for Hispanics with serious mental illness and develop a collaborative planning approach for intervention for use by outpatient public mental health clinics.

Dr. Cabassa is a member of the Society for Social Work and Research and the American Public Health Association. He was elected last month to the Board of Directors of the American Society of Hispanic Psychiatry.

He received his M.S.W and Ph. D. from the George Warren Brown School of Social Work at Washington University in St. Louis. Before becoming affiliated with Columbia’s College of Physicians and Surgeons and the New York State Psychiatric Institute, he was an assistant professor at the University of Southern California (USC) School of Social Work and at the USC Keck School of Medicine Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences.

Dr. Heidi Allen, who most recently worked as a research scientist with Providence Health Systems at the Center for Outcomes Research and Education (CORE) in Portland, Oregon, has expertise in health policy, economics, health reform, and the social determinants of health and health disparities. In relation to social work, she has focused upon macro and mezzo social work, GLBT issues, transgender children and adolescents, and research methods.

As co-investigator on the Oregon Health Study (OHS)—also known in health finance and policy circles as the Oregon Health Insurance Experiment—Dr. Allen has been participating in research that has entailed the first randomized trial to examine the impacts of a health insurance expansion on uninsured adults. She has also served as the principal investigator for the qualitative component of the OHS, which involved managing a research team responsible for interviews and the analysis of information gathered on subpopulations covered by the study.

Additionally, Dr. Allen was principal investigator on the Oregon Health Kids Evaluation to determine the impact of the SCHIP health insurance expansion to uninsured children in Oregon. She is co-investigator for two other studies—one related to Medicaid and social determinants of health and the other, to the impact of insurance on cancer care.

Before transitioning to the aforementioned work, Dr. Allen was the director of the Oregon Health Research and Evaluation Collaborative in the Office for Oregon Health Policy and Research, Oregon Health Authority. She has also worked as a medical social worker in the emergency department of the Oregon Health and Sciences University, a mental health crisis counselor, a child abuse specialist, and a mental health therapist. She was a research fellow at the Institute for Qualitative and Multi-Method Research at the Maxwell School, Syracuse University, and has taught graduate-level courses on health policy and practice, diversity and social justice, and human behavior and the social environment, along with a sociology course on “Drugs and Alcohol in Society.”

Dr. Allen earned her M.S.W., with a concentration in community-based practice, and Ph.D. in social work and social research from Portland State University.

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