Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Celebrating Social Work: Why Social Workers Are an Essential Part of Effective Home Care

Forging Solutions Out of Challenges: Why Social Workers Are an Essential Part of Effective Home Care

In addition to being the month in which we turn ahead the clocks, welcome spring, and celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, March is also National Social Work Month. This year’s theme, “Forging Solutions Out of Challenges,” brilliantly summarizes the impact that social workers are having on people’s lives every day, across our nation.

While many Americans may associate the social work profession with efforts to support struggling families, or with the thousands of practitioners who have earned social work degrees on the way to becoming psychotherapists, it’s important to note that social workers also play a critical role in home health care organizations like the Visiting Nurse Service of New York, where I work.

In fact, social workers are integrated into virtually every aspect of our operations, including the interdisciplinary care teams who treat patients in their homes following surgery or acute illnesses. When a patient’s coordinating nurse determines there’s a need for social work support, that patient will get referred to a social worker like Kenia Alcantara, who works out of VNSNY Home Care’s Bronx regional office.

A fluent Spanish speaker, Kenia relishes the chance to help each new client. She recalls arriving at the home of a newly assigned patient recently, only to find the elderly woman waiting for her outside the front door.

“We stood talking for 15 minutes before she finally invited me in,” says Kenia. “When she did, I could barely walk in the door. It turns out she’s a hoarder, and was keeping nine cats in her apartment.”

Unable to find a clean chair to sit on, Kenia conducted her assessment standing up. She educated the patient about available services and then pulled out her phone to begin making referrals — New York City Adult Protective Services, to assist with the hoarding situation, and VNSNY’s Community Mental Health Services to assess the patient’s mental health needs and link her to counseling. She also touched base with her interdisciplinary care team to confirm that the woman would be getting physical therapy visits in addition to home nursing care for her hypertension and diabetes.

Through it all, Kenia was careful to keep her patient informed about each step. “I tell everyone I work with, we’re not here to change you but to help you take good care of yourself, so you can stay safe at home,” she notes. For Kenia, seeing her clients in their home environment is a key to resolving their issues. “You see the whole person that way,” she says. “You begin to understand why they’re not taking their insulin, or realize that the reason their adult child isn’t coming around is because the parent is shutting them out. Every patient has a different dynamic and different challenges. When I’m with a frail elderly woman who speaks no English and is overwhelmed by paperwork, and I can break everything down for her and make it manageable and obtainable so that she lights up with understanding, it’s a great feeling.”

Marilyn Dos Santos, a social worker with VNSNY Hospice and Palliative Care, uses the same sense of empathy and commitment to help patients and their families handle the challenges that arise at the end of life. Dealing with tricky family dynamics is commonplace in Marilyn’s work. “The role of social workers in hospice is to help families negotiate uncharted territory,” she says. “I always tell patients that in hospice we work as a team. The nurses help them with the stress inside their bodies, and I help them and their family members cope with the stress outside their bodies. I help them adjust to what’s going on and give them a sense of control.”

To encourage families to open up, Marilyn often uses humor. “I’ll ask patients and family members to pinkie swear about something. Nine times out of ten they’ll laugh, and then they’ll shake pinkies with me!” she chuckles. While she doesn’t try to fix everything — “If a family had trouble getting along before, they’re not all going to suddenly get along now” — she does try to get families to share their feelings and work through them. “My goal is to help everyone come together so their loved one can feel more peaceful during his or her last days.”

Marilyn’s work may also involve arranging for home health aides and making sure advance directives are in place and understood. If everything is going smoothly, she’ll typically check in with a client every couple of weeks. “When it gets closer to the end, though, I visit more often, because that’s when I’m really needed,” she notes. “Patients need help acknowledging what’s happening, and families need help with their feelings of helplessness and uncertainty.”

Ultimately, says Marilyn, a big piece of what she does involves providing reassurance and the strength to deal with often unwelcome changes. “I have one elderly patient who is dying from Alzheimer’s,” she says. “She lives with her daughter, who looks after her every minute of the day. The daughter was the baby of the family, and she’s having a lot of difficulty acknowledging that her mother doesn’t have much time left. My goal is to help the daughter reach that point where she’s ready to let go — to help her accept that she’s done a wonderful job taking care of her mom, and that now it’s time to let nature take its course.”

Social workers also play an essential role at VNSNY CHOICE Health Plans, which includes comprehensive managed long term care plans, helping members deal with everything from mental health issues — administering depression screens and linking members to mental health services as needed — to helping plan members and their family caregivers navigate Medicare and Medicaid and arranging for services like food stamps or housing assistance. “Sometimes I’m just giving support, listening to their concerns and encouraging them to do something they enjoy,” says CHOICE social worker Grace Owen. “I work closely with our plans’ coordinators of care, keeping them informed of what my interventions are and tracking what’s happening in terms of medical follow-up.”

We also have a wonderful group of psychiatric social workers who spearhead our community mental health teams, as well as social workers in our business development and private pay divisions who work through other avenues to address the mental, behavioral, emotional, and other social work needs of our patients and members.

Social workers are filling these same vital roles at every home health care organization across the country. The outstanding and irreplaceable support they provide — not only to patients, but also to the nurses, therapists and home health aides that they’re collaborating with — underscores the reality that effective home care is truly team endeavor.

In these final days of March, I hope you’ll join me in taking this opportunity to recognize and thank America’s social workers for their vital contributions to the well-being of our nation. The empathy, skill, emotional support, and problem-solving expertise they bring to their work is making us a healthier, better, and stronger nation — for which we should all be immensely grateful.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Celebrating Social Work: BC government & Representative for Children & Youth Celebrate the value and efforts of B.C.’s social workers

Friday, March 11, 2016

Global: Social Work Future - Durham Symposium

One of many events triggered by the current refugee crisis and levels of international conflict, Swan is proud to support this event in Durham University, taking place on MARCH 16TH.
Social work engages with the trauma of it's service users on many levels, and this day will be invaluable for all interested parties.
The European Association of Schools of Social Work with affiliated groups has organised an outstanding day, and there are a small number of places left.
Academics and researchers from several countries, including the UK, Germany, Bosnia, Greece, Cyprus and Ireland will be exploring the following topics:
-Refugee crisis and social work
-Social services and social policies in the context of armed conflict
-Social Services and transitional justice
-A critique of "liberal peace”
-“State of emergency” and human rights -Social services for veterans and victims of conflict.
For more information, and to book your place, please see:
Social Work Future - Durham Symposium

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Canadian Association of Social Work: Celebrating National Social Work Month 2016

Social Work: Profession of Choice
Celebrating National Social Work Month 2016

Canadian Association of Social Work

OTTAWA, March 1, 2016 – National Social Work Month (NSWM) is a time to celebrate the profession, reflect on our individual and collective accomplishments, and assess the next challenges and opportunities for our profession. NSWM’s 2016 theme is again Social Work: Profession of Choice, encapsulating social workers’ passion for their chosen path and reflecting the profession’s core values and ethics.

“The pursuit of social justice is embedded in our profession as a core tenant of the CASW Code of Ethics” says CASW President Morel Caissie “It’s a foundational aspect that leads individuals and organizations to make social work their profession of choice when seeking clinical services, hiring new team members, or looking to the future of social policy.”

Social workers can be found in crucial roles across Canada – in direct (public and private) practice, health and education, as well as in the areas of community organization, policy analysis, planning, and administration. More and more, social work is being recognized for its ability to connect the perspectives of different health and helping professions, and look beyond individual problems to societal solutions.

NSWM is important time of year as the profession often neglects to celebrate its own accomplishments.

“Social workers choose this path because they genuinely want to make a difference,” reflects Mr. Caissie. 

“We often see our clients through the most difficult times in their lives, so the natural inclination isn’t to seek recognition, but rather to celebrate the successes of those we serve.”

Another key aspect of the profession is a focus on the social determinants of health. Social work is increasingly becoming the profession of choice for individuals and organizations seeking professional services grounded in a holistic understanding of a person in all aspects of their environment: health, social, and economic.

“I am so proud to include myself among the amazing professionals practicing social work across Canada” states Caissie. “And I encourage young people who are seeking to positively impact their communities, country, and the world to make social work their profession of choice.”