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Mercedes Bern-Klug, PhD, MSW

Knee-Wittman Outstanding Achievement Award

Photo of Mercedes Bern-Klug

Mercedes Bern-Klug, PhD, MSW, is an Associate Professor in the School of Social Work at the University of Iowa and a John A. Hartford Geriatrics Social Work Faculty Scholar.  Her area of scholarship is psychosocial issues affecting persons with advanced chronic illness and their family members, with an emphasis on medical decision making at the end of life.  She edited the first book on social work palliative care in the nursing home setting, Transforming Palliative Care in Nursing Homes:  The Social Work Role.

Together with Robert Connolly, she organized a national effort to respond to the 2015 Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) proposed rule changes affecting the nation’s 15,500 certified nursing homes. The response, which reflects the input of more than 20 national thought leaders in the area of gerontological social work and long-term care, emphasized the need to change national policy in order to enhance nursing home residents’ access to quality psychosocial services, including professional social work services.  The comments submitted by the group will be published this year as part of a manuscript in the Journal of Gerontological Social Work.

Dr. Bern-Klug’s social work practice experience crosses systems levels, and includes 12 years of facilitating Alzheimer family support groups.  She has experience developing and disseminating consumer-oriented information about Medicare, dementia and end-of-life issues.  She volunteered with the Funeral Consumers Alliance in Kansas City for more than a decade, heading up their efforts to educate the public about local funeral home options and prices. Their reports were distributed to social workers in hospitals, nursing homes, and hospices where more than 80 percent of U.S. deaths occur. As a social work professor, she works with students to develop consumer-oriented information about final arrangement options and costs.  Their reports are available at no cost on the University of Iowa School of Social Work website.

With mentorship from Rosalie Kane and Lorraine Dorfman, and financial support from the John A. Hartford Foundation, in 2006, she conducted the first nationally representative survey of nursing home social work directors.  She runs the National Nursing Home Social Work Network, which is an e-resource that develops and disseminates information targeting practicing long-term care social workers, including 30 recorded webinars made possible with support from the Retirement Research Foundation.  She is a trained Respecting Choices ® Advance Care Planning facilitator and recently completed a John A. Hartford Foundation project with nursing and social work colleagues to improve systems issues in nursing homes to support the use of IPOST (IPOST is Iowa’s version of the POLST paradigm, which includes a medical order indicating what type of medical care a person who is close to death wants should an emergency occur).   She teaches Global Aging and Introduction to Nursing Homes which are both part of the University of Iowa’s Aging Studies Program. She has served as director of the Aging Studies Program since 2009.  A favorite part of her job is brainstorming potential research projects with students.  


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