PhD student 2nd place in Allegheny County Case Competition

Doctoral student Sommer Blair competed in the Allegheny County Case Competition this past week and out of 20 teams her team placed second, winning a $2500 prize. Their solution to the problems of involuntary commitments in Allegheny County? Advocacy! A person centered approach that provides holistic care to real human beings impacted by traumatic experiences. 

2nd Place: Hot Metal:

On the Hot Metal team was: 

1. Goutam Mukku, who is studying for his master’s degree in Information Systems Management at Carnegie Mellon University 

2. Dorothy Yam, who is studying Medicine at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. 

3. Sommer Blair, who is working toward a Ph.D in Social Work at the University of Pittsburgh


Hot Metal recommended creating a program in which advocates would be assigned to individuals who were the subject of involuntary commitment petitions, starting as early in the process. Hot Metal envisioned that these advocates could be professionals and college students or fellows studying to join the behavioral health workforce, who would receive training in communication, mental health, post-discharge planning, and interdisciplinary collaboration. Advocates’ role would be to communicate with the subject of a petition and in all cases help to share their interests with physicians, judges, other service providers, family members, law enforcement and others throughout the entire petitioning and post-discharge process. The Hot Metal team also suggested the creation of an application that the advocates could use be assigned individuals, and that they could use to share information back with hospital staff and other stakeholders about the client, including details like what strategies might work to help the person, and what strategies might escalate them. Judges loved the team’s discussion of the history of the mental health system and how it has perpetuated harms, and how the teams’ solution was designed to respond to that. The judges loved that advocates would be able to serve an individual without having to adhere to eligibility criteria, and that the solution was deeply focused on empathy, dignity and was person-centered instead of system-centered. Finally, the judges also appreciated the participation of college students in this process, which they thought could help to build up and train a new generation of the behavioral health workforce.