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VUMC social workers make positive impact on patients, families

Apr. 6, 2017, 8:38 AM

From left, Beth Black, LMSW, Ginger Ketschke, LCSW, Dana Merritt, LCSW; Cindy Tinker Hancock, LMSW, Jill Thomas, LMSW, Amber Dillehay, LCSW, and their colleagues in the Transition Management Office provide social work services across the Medical Center. (photo by Anne Rayner)

Whether it be helping families cope with the loss of a loved one, connecting homeless patients to community services or providing drug-addicted mothers with treatment options, social workers all work toward the common goal of facilitating positive change in the lives of patients and families.

Vanderbilt University Medical Center has offered social work services to patients for nearly 90 years. Social workers work alongside physicians, nurses, therapy staff and other providers, and their consultation is frequently included in a patient’s plan for care. Social Workers provide a specialized knowledge combined with concern and compassion for the patient and family as they cope with health issues.

A group of social workers from throughout VUMC recently sat down to recount their experiences and talk about the scope of the work they do.

There are more than 50 master’s-prepared social workers within the Transition Management Office covering inpatient and outpatient areas of the adult hospital, including on call support 24/7. Social workers are licensed professionals and adhere to the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) code of ethics.

“People are familiar with the idea that social workers are in mental health centers, in schools and private practices, but they don’t always realize there are social workers in health care settings also,” said Ginger Ketschke, LCSW, who specializes in Orthopaedic Social Work.

Ketschke has the task of working with people who have had a change in their mobility.

“Some patients are admitted for elective surgeries, but some of our patients have a cancer diagnosis, or injury due to an accident,” she said. “Their lives may have been turned upside down. The medical team addresses all the medical issues, but we get involved to assess how the patient and family are coping.”

Cindy Tinker Hancock, LMSW, works with patients and families who are receiving cancer treatment, meeting with them at the time of diagnosis or in the midst of treatment, whether they are cancer-free or at the end of life.

“We are not just referring people for food stamps,” she said. “The work is a lot more about doing an assessment to find out what is really going on, and determining how we can best provide support.”

Amber Dillehay, LCSW, works in Obstetrics and Gynecology. She gets involved with a wide variety of situations such as teenage pregnancy, adoption, pregnancy complications, substance abuse and mental health issues with pregnant women. The goal is to make each woman’s pregnancy experience positive and supported.

Another area with active social worker involvement is Infectious Disease. Beth Black, LMSW, works with patients from a holistic perspective with the medical team. “We are not just looking at a specific disease or disorder,” she said. “We assess how patients function in their home environment and the community. We address the other factors in a patient’s life that may contribute to decline in their health.”

Jill Thomas, LMSW, is an important part of the team in the Adult Emergency Department, offering grief counseling among other services.

“In a Level 1 Trauma Center many patients are in serious or critical condition upon arrival,” she said. “We don’t always get to meet the patients. Our interaction is often with the family. It may be for two hours or all day, but we are there for them on what may be the worst day of their lives.”

Patients don’t have to be in crisis to meet with a social worker. Social Workers assist patients in navigating complex health care systems that may be unfamiliar to them. Dana Merritt, LCSW, specializes in Geriatrics.

“People don’t like to think about aging, and put it out of their minds,” she said. “All of a sudden they are in the hospital and in a situation where they have to make a lot of decisions in a short time. We provide guidance regarding options and resources, both short- and long-term, that are available.”

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