Did you know?

Summer 2016

More than 90 social workers provide their expertise, care and compassion to patients and families at London Health Sciences Centre.

 What does a hospital social worker do?

LHSC’s social workers strive to make a difference and offer support at the most critical times. While responsibilities vary according to clinical areas, London Health Sciences Centre’s (LHSC) social workers handle a wide range of tasks including:

Individual, group and family counseling and therapy

  • Addressing sources of stress and conflict
  • Coping with grief and loss
  • Issues related to physical, emotional and sexual abuse
  • Preparing for admission to hospital or outpatient procedures
  • Discharge planning - assisting with plans to leave hospital including residential placement
  • Making connections to services within the hospital and in the community
  • Assisting families to obtain financial help, accommodations, or home support services
  • Planning and providing health education and support groups
  • Parenting and relationship issues

 

Patrick Fleming and Alicia Cooper are two of the social workers at LHSC who provide these supports to patients and families.

Alicia Cooper
Paediatric Emergency Department

A child falls off of his bike and breaks his wrist. A newborn baby has an unusually high temperature. A teen with severe injuries arrives in an ambulance after being hit by a car.

The incidents that bring patients and families to the emergency department (ED) at Children’s Hospital, LHSC are diverse and often distressing. For Alicia Cooper, the reason she has spent the past 10 years providing social work services to patients and families in the ED is simple.

“It sounds cliché, but I want to help people,” she shares with a smile.

Alicia has flourished in her role as a member of the health-care team, and the staff she works with are quick to acknowledge this. While nurses and doctors take measures to ensure patients receive necessary and sometimes life-saving medical treatment, LHSC’s paediatric social workers attend to the psychological and social needs of patients and families. Alicia recognizes that many families feel overwhelmed while navigating different departments, tests and procedures in the hospital.

“Families might feel lost or have a lot of anxiety about what is happening,” she says. “As a social worker, I can ensure that their voice is being heard. There are also quiet times where I can sit down and have a very therapeutic one-on-one relationship with a child or their family.”

Working in the ED is a unique environment for a hospital social worker. While Alicia does receive referrals, her first point of contact with patients and families often comes from simply walking around the ED to see if she can offer her support.

“With children, this might be the first time they’ve been in a medical crisis or experienced a struggle,” says Alicia. “I like being the calm factor in a chaotic situation that is able to help patients through difficult times.”

Through her work, Alicia experiences many moments that remind her of the vital role that social work plays at the hospital.

“Recently I met with a 16-year-old girl who was experiencing a mental health crisis, and on this particular day, she just hit a wall with her treatment and thought she would never get better,” shares Alicia. “She opened up to me about the emotional trauma that had triggered her. I simply said to her, ‘Your life matters.’ I told her that she does have a voice, and that I was there to advocate for her and to support her.”

After receiving treatment in the outpatient mental health care program at LHSC, Alicia heard from the team who was working with the patient.

“I received a call saying that my small ED meeting with the patient made her feel that there was someone that really believed her and cared for her, and for the outcome of her life,” says Alicia. “Those are the days that remind me why I do what I do. At the end of the day, the work we do is for patients and families. They are the reason why we’re here.”

Patrick Fleming
Geriatric Mental Health Program

When Patrick Fleming started working in the geriatric mental health program at London Health Sciences Centre (LHSC) in 1984, he didn’t know he was stepping into a role that would prove so meaningful it would span his entire career.

“I always felt that working with an older adult population would be an honour. Thirty-two years have passed, so I must still be enjoying it!” he says with a laugh.

Part of Patrick’s role as a social worker involves leading a weekly group for seniors experiencing depression at LHSC’s Victoria Hospital.

“The group setting allows patients to talk through their problems and support others who are experiencing similar issues, in the hopes of realizing they aren’t alone,” says Patrick.

Despite the joys that retirement and leisure may bring, older adults can face a myriad of social changes to family and professional life. The loss of loved ones and the difficulties associated with adapting to new medical conditions or mobility issues can create new challenges that put a strain on mental well-being.

The weekly group is one of the many ways that Patrick extends his care to patients. He splits his time providing support to outpatients within the walls of LHSC, and in the community providing assessments in people’s homes.

“After an assessment, we create a treatment plan. We also set up individual or family follow-up appointments depending on the need,” he says. “I also see if the individual might benefit from seeing one of our psychiatrists or other community services that might help with socialization or education.”

As a social worker, Patrick understands that physical and mental health are intimately intertwined. He recognizes that older adults want to remain independent despite shifting needs and challenges.

“I’m in a unique position to understand where people are coming from,” says Patrick. “Life goes on after hospitalization. Older adults want to stay in their homes as long as they can. So as a team, we try to figure out ways to help them stay independent as long as possible.”

The geriatric population is a rapidly growing demographic, representing five million Canadians in 2011. That number is expected to double over the next 25 years. This underscores the importance of appropriate and effective supports to meet care needs. This is a task that Patrick takes to heart – not only does he spend his time helping people in the hospital, but he dedicates his own time to local community organizations aimed at improving quality of life for seniors. Currently, Patrick chairs London’s Elder Abuse Network.

“It’s my hope that as I am involved with these organizations, they are making a positive difference in people’s lives,” he says.

The stories that Patrick hears through his role at LHSC are profound. Being a social worker isn’t simply a job for him – it is both a passion and a privilege.

“The experiences that people share are very personal and very deep for them,” he says. “It’s an honour to be given the opportunity to hear those stories and work with people on how they wish to continue to shape their story. To be invited to be a part of that journey and process is immensely fulfilling for me.”

 

 

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Alicia Cooper