Connecticut Social Worker of the Year helps improve inmate healthcare

By Calla Vassilopoulos - Staff Writer
East Granby - posted Fri., Jun. 14, 2013
Vickie Alston, Connecticut Social Worker of the Year, dedicates herself to improving healthcare for individuals in the judicial system and eliminating stigmas associated with mental illness. Courtesy photo. - Contributed Photo

"Fortunate" is one word Vickie Alston, MSW, LCSW, DCSW, used to describe her 30 years of experience as a social worker. This year the National Association of Social Workers, Connecticut Chapter (NASW/CT) decided it was fortunate to have her working in the profession. Alston, vice president of health and wellness for ValueOptions, Connecticut was recognized as the 2013 Social Worker of the Year.

“It's really the people who work around me and with me,” said Alston. “I love teaching, mentoring, motivating and inspiring people. It gives me so much satisfaction to see growth, not just from the systems level, but also on an individual level. It's a fabulous opportunity."

The East Granby resident knew she would be a social worker since grade school, largely because of her family background. Coming from a Mennonite family in Lancaster County, Penn., Alston's instinct has always been to help those in need. She recalls a period when she was a child where her parents provided 24/7 care for her great-grandparents, who at the time were in their 90s.

“I was accustomed to that sense of always thinking about somebody who is disenfranchised or has a need. You drop what you're doing and you take care of it,” said Alston.

During the past year Alston worked to create a relationship between ValueOptions and the Connecticut Department of Corrections to provide case management and medical services, including behavioral health, to inmates being discharged. This has allowed her to continue working with inmates to improve their healthcare and assist them in their transition back into society.

“A decade ago it was not uncommon for a severely compromised inmate to complete his or her sentence and be dropped at the emergency room nearest to their home,” said Stephen A. Karp, MSW, executive director of NASW/CT.

Alston began working for ValueOptions, a health improvement company, last June. She is also proactive in the company's campaign Stamp Out Stigma. The cause centers around getting rid of negative connotations associated with having a mental illness. “There is a lot of advocacy because of all the stigmas that go along with an individual who has entered the system one way or another,” said Alston.

Previous to working with ValueOptions, Alston was the health service administrator for University of Connecticut's Health Care (UCHC) division of Correctional Managed Health Care for the last decade. This is where she began working with individuals going through the judicial system.

First, Alston began working with the Connecticut Juvenile Detention Center and oversaw a consent decree, which was later removed due to significant healthcare improvements. In fact, the detention center became the best in the nation in terms of healthcare, she said.

“That was a wonderful five years to see the evolution of the system for juveniles,” said Alston. She and her team from UCHC also helped the center achieve national accreditation.

After being part of a successful juvenile program, Alston was able to secure a contract with the Connecticut Department of Corrections adult facility while working for UCHC. She then became the health services administrator of the new transitional services program.

As part of her work establishing the program, she built a team of discharge planners, social workers and nurses to help inmates transition. During this time she received the UCHC Dr. Peter Decker's Employee Nominee Award and Unit of the Year Award by the Connecticut Department of Corrections.

“This kind of support has proven in the past to significantly reduce recidivism,” said Marie Carlin, LCSW, a former co-worker from Correctional Managed Health Care who nominated Alston. “Vickie is really bringing something new to the social work scene in Connecticut by establishing this creative partnership which will assure much better care for these individuals.”

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