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BCSSW’s Sudders Will Be Mass. HHS Secretary

Portrait of Marylou Sudders
Marylou Sudders (Photo by Erik Jacobs)

By Sean Smith | Chronicle Editor

Published: Dec. 3, 2014

Marylou Sudders, an associate professor of the practice and chair of the health and mental health program at the Boston College School of Social Work, will join the cabinet of incumbent Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker as secretary for the Executive Office of Health and Human Services.

Sudders will officially begin her new post effective Jan. 8, marking a return to public service for the former Massachusetts commissioner of mental health.

“The honor of serving the Commonwealth of Massachusetts is just too great to refuse,” said Sudders, interviewed Monday afternoon in McGuinn Hall. “You don’t apply to become secretary for health and human services, the governor asks you to serve. It is a challenge, to be sure, but also an ideal opportunity to utilize my background and experience in social work.

“That said, one of my few regrets about accepting the job is having to leave teaching, and the BC School of Social Work,” added Sudders, who joined BCSSW as a full-time faculty member in 2012 after teaching on an adjunct basis for five years. “The school is such a wonderful environment, and it’s been a privilege to work with the great caliber of faculty and students who are part of the BCSSW community. I’ve grown and learned a lot here, and my expectation is that EOHHS will be a training and employment site for the school.

“My hope is to reach out to BCSSW for the expertise, insight and talent that is here – and I know that door will always be open.” 

Sudders will assume leadership of Massachusetts’ largest state agency, which oversees services, programs and resources for Medicaid, mental health, public health, children and families, veterans, immigrants and the homeless, among other areas. EOHHS has come under intense scrutiny following widely publicized cases of neglect involving children under state care. Other flashpoints have included its implementation of the Affordable Care

Act, especially the troubled launch of the state’s health care website, and oversight of medical marijuana dispensaries.

Her first step as HHS secretary, Sudders said, will be to address leadership needs in the departments of Children and Families and Public Health, and the state’s Medicaid administration. 

“The vast majority of public employees, including those in HHS, are incredibly dedicated,” she said. “It’s extraordinarily important that we have equally dedicated, strong leaders who ensure that our line workers have the support and resources to meet the needs of the people who seek government support. We need to instill public confidence in our child welfare system and our health care connector; we need to address the crises in psychiatric emergency boarding and family homelessness.

“HHS can’t solve every person’s problem. What is possible, however, is for HHS to partner with business, academia, local communities and others in the public or private sector to find solutions. In Massachusetts, we’re blessed to have some of the best and the brightest in those areas, and we’ll need to draw on their creativity and innovation.” 

Sudders said her tenure in BCSSW has strengthened her belief that social work has a valuable role to play in helping HHS fulfill its mission. “One of the key characteristics of social work is its ability to bring diverse perspectives together to tackle complex problems. As a profession and a discipline, social work has been invaluable in showing the interrelatedness of poverty, child abuse, lack of health care and other issues.”

Sudders drew praise during her term as mental health commissioner from 1996-2003 for the successful passage of mental health parity insurance and civil commitment reform and establishment of a children’s mental health commission, among other accomplishments. She then became president and CEO of the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, a private non-profit advocating for the rights and well-being of children and their families.

Since her arrival at BC, Sudders has continued to build on, and draw from, her experience in public service and public policy. She was appointed to special boards monitoring reform of the state’s health care delivery and studying potential legislative solutions to gun violence. Earlier this fall, she was awarded a $664,000 grant from the Health Resources and Services Administration of the US Department of Health and Human Services to fund a program that will provide critical on-the-ground training for 53 second-year master’s level students at BCSSW. David Takeuchi, the school’s associate dean for research, was the grant’s co-recipient and will administer the program.

"During her three years at the Boston College School of Social Work, Marylou made a major impact in reshaping our health and mental health program,” said BCSSW Dean Alberto Godenzi. “Her experience in executive leadership, and in particular as Massachusetts commissioner of mental health, encouraged us to refocus this program toward integrative care, and her grant from the Health Resources and Services Administration will provide critical training for the next generation of social workers who will be hard at work implementing the Affordable Care Act in agencies and hospitals across the country. 

“Governor-elect Baker has made a wise decision. Marylou is without a doubt the perfect choice to address the major challenges of her new office. We will do everything we can at Boston College to support her work moving forward.”