NASW Foundation National Programs
NASW Social Work Pioneers®
Eileen Lester (1911-1993)
Eileen Lester is best known for the work that she has done with the Public Health Service to establish home health services throughout the country, and with the Health Care Financing Administration to incorporate home health standards within the medicare program.
Lester was born in Greenville, Michigan and received her bachelor's degree from the University of Michigan and her master's in social work degree from the New York School of Social Work in 1940. Her first position in medical social work was with the Presbyterian Hospital in New York and then with a project sponsored by John Hopkins on health examinations for school children, a Children's Bureau sponsored project. Lester went on later to join the staff of the Children's Bureau working in the maternal and child health program.
In the 1950s she transferred to the Public Health Service where she worked in the demonstration and the development of information and referral services for health services and community-based home health services. During the 1970s, Lester worked with the Division of Long Term Care (within the Public Health Service) to establish research programs in home health and nursing home alternative services. With the establishment of the Health Care Financing Administration in the mid-70s she transferred to this agency where she worked on continued research in long term care components and the continued refinement of standards for home health services.
Lester retired in 1981 after suffering a debilitating stroke. In the years since her retirement, Lester has essentially been housebound but she has continued her communication with leaders in home health services across the country and is frequently called upon to critique program proposals and concepts.
Her description of her career is "I was privileged to work for three excellent federal programs. They had good leadership, technical skills, and grant program funds to help state and local communities develop a wide range of health and social services. I never went into a state or local community that I did not find wonderful people eager to accept grant requirements in order to develop and maintain a wide range of health and social services to help women have healthy babies and to keep them well and free from preventable disease that can cause permanent handicaps. Many crippled children were able to receive skilled surgical and restorative services in order to be able to participate fully in community services. Later in my career, I was able to help a number of communities to develop special projects to help old individuals remain in their own homes and receive assistance (health and social services plus trained workers) to make it possible for them to remain in their own homes and receive necessary care instead of unwanted institutional care."