Laura Kelemen, MSW '97, has known Niagara County well over the past 15 years through leadership roles for community-based agencies in child advocacy services and youth and family services. A natural progression for her, then, was being named director of mental health services for Niagara County in October.
Her experience with children and families gave her insights into trauma. "We talk about mental health — and I don't like the stigma connected to the term — that so much of trauma and mental health concerns are biologically based. It is all treatable, similar to diabetes and heart disease, and when we look at it differently, I think, it takes some of the stigma away," she says.
To that stigma-breaking end, she is all for tearing down silos and building up integrated provider networks in accordance with the rapidly changing health care landscape, but not at the cost of overlooking anyone. "It's our responsibility to make sure that individuals aren't falling through the cracks, are understanding the services available to them, and provided with choice," she emphasizes.
Originally pursuing chemistry and psychology as an undergraduate at UB, Kelemen was searching for career direction. "By the time I got to my master's degree, I knew I wanted to work in social work, in human services. I had a professor, Nancy Smyth, who is now the dean, say, 'Learn something that you wouldn't naturally gravitate towards as your graduate focus because you will naturally gravitate back towards that which really fuels your passion."
The advice from Smyth helped her realize that issues are not singular, that there are many different facets and complications, "which really goes along with the theme that's happening in health care right now in trying to look at a person as a whole."
Kelemen recalls being at the beginning discussions of the trauma-based curriculum at SSW. "EMDR was just in its infancy when I graduated. Thank God the world has developed phenomenally from there," she says. "I've had social work interns who have come through the Institute for Trauma-Informed Care. The background that today's social work students have in looking at things through a trauma-informed lens is a tremendous benefit to the field, and to the people who walk through our door asking for help."
- Jim Bisco, Mosaics, Spring 2015