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Helen Rehr (1919 – 2013)

Helen Rehr

Helen Rehr‘s work touched the lives of many thousands of the sick and frail. The programs she developed and administered provided superb services for a large number of clients. Her research demonstrated the effectiveness of her programs and thus enabled readers of many of her published articles to implement these programs around the country. Her teaching of social workers and medical students further extended her impact as she enabled others to meet the needs of the people they serve. Indeed she was a pioneer in health related social services through her practice examples, her teaching, and her research. She extended the reach of her knowledge from the United States by developing and implementing an innovative exchange program with Israeli and Australian social workers.

Helen Rehr was born in New York City. She received her bachelor’s degree from Hunter College in 1940 and a Master in Social Work from Columbia University in 1945, and her Doctor of Social Work in 1970 also from Columbia University.

Dr. Rehr was in the field of health and mental health beginning in 1943 and spent 50 years with the Social Work Department at Mt. Sinai Medical Center. In her work she developed innovative pace setting social work programs and effectively demonstrated the essential role that social work plays in health and mental health settings. Her career was dedicated not to just serving client populations but also to demonstrating to social workers and to other health professionals just how vital an ingredient social work is in the delivery of effective quality health care. The chairman of the Mt. Sinai Community Medicine Department credited her with creating a Department of Social Work that “was the most effective division of social work in the nation. The research, education, and training productivity has been distinguished and unequaled in quality and excellence.”

Upon her retirement from Mt. Sinai, she became one of NASW’s National Center for Social Policy and Practice’s founding members and served as its first treasurer. She assumed these positions with a goal that her efforts would enable the center to contribute innovatively to the health and mental health fields. She was active, prior to this, in a number of NASW committees.

Helen served as chair of the New York City Social Work Pioneers® and member of the National Social Work Pioneer® Steering Committee. She was generous with her time serving as a volunteer and also played an important role in fundraising efforts. Her personal donations helped stimulate others to give donations which resulted in several endowed funds that continue to fund programs in the NASW Foundation.

Dr. Rehr’s recognitions and awards included the Ida M. Cannon award from the Society for Hospital Social Work Directors (1975), election to the Hunter College Hall of Fame (1978), election as a distinguished practitioner to the National Academy of Practice, a commendation from the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Health Care Organizations, a commendation from the Community Mental Health Journal, election as a fellow at the Brookdale Center on Aging at Hunter College, appointment as Dozor Visiting Professorship at Ben Gurion University in Beer-Sheva, Israel (1986), and in 1990 she received the first NASW Foundation Knee/Wittman Lifetime Achievement Award in Health and Mental Health.

Rehr’s retirement was most active as she continued her affiliation with Mt. Sinai Medical Center as a consultant and actively worked with the exchange program which she developed and with other health and mental health organizations.


  1. Bob Arnold, Director, NASW Foundation

    Dr. Rehr epitomized the best of social work and was a catalyst for excellence in so many areas. Social workers and the public have benefited from her leadership in creating the NASW Foundation’s Blackey and Aron Doctoral Fellowships, as well as the Ruth Fizdale Chapter Research Award. Dr. Rehr gave generously of her own time, talent, and treasure – and inspired so many others to join her. We will miss her greatly – but her important work and accomplishments will live on.

  2. Helen Rehr was a vibrant, outspoken, and immeasurably generous social worker. Her assured vision of the profession’s and each social work practitioner’s ability to not just contribute, but lead in health care provision inspired so many of us. She was unfailingly willing to take time to read, mentor, encourage, prod, and positively critique so that one could be and do one’s best.

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