Michelle Putnam

Professor and Jennifer Eckert '08 School of Social Work Chair

Dr. Putnam's research focuses on the intersections of aging and disability, with particular emphasis on understanding how public programs and public policy meets the needs of persons aging with disability. Within this area, her work examines collaborations between aging and disability service providers and their capacity to serve the aging with disability population, long-term care and support needs of persons aging with disabilities, the role of activity portfolios in fostering well-being among older adults, and the relationship of asset accumulation in fostering financial security and independent living among older adults and persons aging with disability. Dr. Putnam holds a Ph.D. in Social Welfare from the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, a Masters of Gerontological Studies from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, and a Bachelor of Arts in History from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. She served as a Post-Doctoral Fellow in Public Health and Disabilities at the Rehabilitation Research and Training Center on Health and Wellness for Persons with Long-term Disabilities, Oregon Health Sciences University, Portland, OR. Dr. Putnam served on the faculty of the Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis prior to joining the School of Social Work at Simmons University.

Dr. Putnam's scholarship is both independent and done in collaboration with colleagues across institutions and disciplines, and when possible with direct stakeholders. Funders of Dr. Putnam's research and/or research collaborations include the John A. Hartford Foundation, AARP Foundation, National Institute of Aging, National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research, Administration for Community Living, Canadian Institutes of Health Research, Productive Living Board of St. Louis County, the Council on Social Work Education, and Memorial Hermann Foundation. She is frequently engaged to speak about aging with disability and public policy to research, practice, and policy audiences.

Dr. Putnam is one of the few scholars in the field of social work studying aging with disability and is recognized for her leadership in this area. She has actively worked to build awareness of the distinctions between aging with long-term disability and incurring disability for the first time in later life as it relates to provision of supports and services and the overall experience of aging. Her work is both theoretical and empirical, but always related to public policy and the practical aspects of making aging and disability policies and programs work well for people aging with disabilities and their families. Dr. Putnam's current interest in capacity building within aging and disability service networks directly stems from her prior work. She believes that building capacity to meet unique needs of aging with disability populations has the potential to complement and move current discussions focused on institutional systems change to also include discourse on what individuals and their families need to live independently, engage in their community, and experience positive aging.

In addition to her research, Dr. Putnam actively participates at the national and international level in building bridges across the aging and disability fields of policy and practice. She serves as a founding member of the Bridging Aging and Disability International Network (BADIN), is a Fellow of the Gerontology Society of America, member of the National Academy of Social Insurance, and member of the National Advisory Board on Improving Health Care Services for Older Adults and People with Disabilities, an independent board with funded by Anthem Inc., to provide expert opinion and guidance on the health care needs of persons with disabilities of all ages. Dr. Putnam served as Editor-in-Chief for the Journal of Gerontological Social Work for 7 years from 2014-2020. Her latest work is the Handbook on Aging with Disability, published by Routledge and co-edited with Dr. Christine Bigby at La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia.

At Simmons, Dr. Putnam is the Director of the PhD Program in Social Work.


  • Integrating Public Policy Issues & Outcomes into Social Work Research (PhD)
  • Policy Analysis in Political, Social and Economic Contexts (PhD)
  • Survey Research Methods (PhD)
  • Social Welfare Policy (MSW)
  • Social Work Research (MSW)

Research/Creative Activities

Dr. Putnam is currently a Co-Investigator at the Community Engagement for Disability and Aging Research Midwest (CEDAR) based at the School of Medicine at Washington University in St. Louis (WUSTL). CEDAR is funded by the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research. Dr. Putnam co-leads a longitudinal study of persons aging with disability ages 50-65, changes in activities and participation, use of supports and services, and individual strategies to maintain engagement with Dr. Kerri Morgan at WUSTL.

She is engaged with colleagues at TIRR Memorial Hermann rehabilitation hospital, a teaching hospital for the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, to explore issues of aging with disability, independent living, and home and community-based care.

Dr. Putnam serves on the Executive Committee that leads the Bridging Aging and Disability International Network (BADIN) along with Dr. Tamar Heller at the University of Illinois at Chicago and Dr. Luis Salvador Carulla at the Australian National University in Canberra, Australia.


Putnam, M., & Shen, H.W. (Eds.). (2021). Gerontological social work and COVID-19: Calls for change in education, practice, and policy from international voices. Routledge.

Putnam, M., & Bigby, C. (Eds.). (2021). Handbook on aging with disability. Routledge.

Putnam, M., Coyle, C., Odgen, L., & Bigby, C. (2021). Understanding aging with disability. In M. Putnam & C. Bigby (Eds.), Handbook on aging with disability. Routledge.

Putnam, M. & Coyle, C. (2021). Integrating long-term services and supports in the United States. In M. Putnam & C. Bigby (Eds.), Handbook on aging with disability. Routledge.

Putnam, M. & Bigby, C. (2021). Future directions in aging with disability scholarship, policy, and practice. In M. Putnam & C. Bigby (Eds.), Handbook on aging with disability. Routledge.

Mahoney, K. J., Mahoney, E. K., & Putnam, M. (2019). Self-direction in Long-term Services and Supports. Taylor & Francis Group.

Nalder, E., Saumur, T., Batliwalla, Z., Salvador-Carulla, L., Putnam, M., Spindel, A., Lenton, E., & Hussein, H. (2020). A scoping review to characterize bridging tasks in the literature on aging with disability. BMC Health Services Research, 20,170. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12913-020-5046-5

Dashner, J., Espin-Tello, S.M., Snyder, M., Hollingsworth, H., Keglovits, M., Campbell, M., Putnam, M., & Stark, S. (2019). Examination of community participation of adults with disabilities: Comparing age and disability onset, Journal of Aging and Health, 31(10_suppl), 169S-194S. https://doi.org/10.1177/0898264318816794

Lee, YS, Putnam, M., Morrow-Howell, N., Inoue, M., Greenfield, J.C., & Chen, H. (2019). Consolidated measures of activity among older adults: Results of a three data set comparison, Journal of Gerontological Social Work 62(5), 502-520. https://doi.org/10.1080/01634372.2019.1582123

Ruiz, S., Giuriceo, K., Caldwell, J., Snyder, L. P., & Putnam, M. (2019). Care coordination models improve quality of care for adults aging with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Journal of Disability Policy Studies, 30(4), 191-201. https://doi.org/10.1177/1044207319835195

Chen, Y., Putnam, M., Lee, Y., & Morrow-Howell, N. (2019). Activity profiles and health outcomes in later life: Does nature of engagement matter? The Gerontologist 59(4), 698-708. https://doi.org/10.1093/geront/gny023

Morrow-Howell, N., Gonzales, E., Matz-Costa, C., James, J., & Putnam, M. (2018). Advancing long and productive lives. In R. Fong, J. Lubben & R. P. Barth (Eds.), Grand challenges for social work and society. (pp. 81-102). Oxford University Press/NASW Press.

Campbell, M. & Putnam, M. (2017). Reducing the shared burden of chronic conditions among persons aging with disability and older adults in the United States through bridging aging and disability, Health Care 5(56), 35030056, doi:10.3390.

Nalder, E., Putnam, M., Salvador-Carulla, L., Batliwalla, Z., Spindel, A., & Lenton, E. (2017). Bridging knowledge, policies and practices from the aging and disability fields: a scoping review protocol to inform the development of a bridging taxonomy, BMJ Open, 7: e016741, doi:10.1136.

Putnam, M. (2017). Extending the promise of the Older Americans Act to persons aging with disability. Research on Aging, 39(6), 799-820.

Shout-outs from Students and Alums

Stephanie Wladkowski ’14PhD

Breaking Ground with Qualitative Research in Hospice Care

Stephanie Wladkowski ’14PhD was a clinical social worker in hospice care when policy changes impacted her clinical practice. In a search for answers, Wladkowski began her PhD in Social Work at Simmons. Her dissertation, “Dementia Caregivers and Live Discharge from Hospice: What Happens When Hospice Leaves?,” has inspired further research in the field.

Wilfred Labiosa and Rev. Julie Johnson Staples

Returning Home, Finding Need: Wilfred Labiosa ‘19PhD Establishes Nonprofit in Puerto Rico

Wilfred Labiosa ‘19PhD is the founder of Waves Ahead, an island wide organization dedicated to working with marginalized and vulnerable sectors of Puerto Rican society by providing support in their needed areas in order to reestablish and strengthen them.