Whether they work in hospitals, detox clinics, nursing homes or even legal services organizations, 1199SEIU social workers perform an essential role in the health care system. By approaching patients and clients in a way that considers the whole community in which they live—not just immediate medical needs—social workers are vital to securing the best long-term health outcomes. 1199 represents more than 2,000 of these professionals in a wide variety of settings. As part of the nationwide celebration of National Social Work month in March, 1199 Magazine caught up with a few of the social workers at New York Presbyterian Hospital in Manhattan.
1. Sometimes patients want to return home after a hospital stay, but their medical or mental health condition makes that impossible. “As social workers, we help to manage that transition,” explains 1199 Delegate Lauren Caballero (above right), who has worked as a Social Worker in General Medicine for 19 years. It can be very difficult because most patients who leave the hospital in need of home care do not qualify for Medicaid or Medicare, which only pays for a few weeks. “So, we have to hope that the family takes over,” says Caballero, adding: “If their needs are not being met at home, they will end up coming back into the hospital.”
“People are sicker and are getting discharged quicker than they used to be,” says Doris Joy (above left), a Social Work In-Patient Floater, with 22 years’ experience. “It is our job to make sure there are supports in place when the patient gets home.
We might have someone come in and get a cancer diagnosis that means they will not be able to work at their old job anymore. Everything from showing people how to access grants to help them get by, to checking the hours at the local pharmacy falls within the social worker’s role.”
3. “Being a social worker in a hospital is different from on the outside,” says Lynette Williams (middle) a Social Worker in Outpatient Oncology for 20 years. “We have to learn medical jargon so we can explain to patients what they will be facing when they get home.” Working with cancer patients poses specific challenges, adds Angela Heller (left), an Oncology Social Worker of 35 years standing.
“We help people to speak to their children at the ends of their lives and support them through guardianship decisions. As social workers, we see patients as not just a diagnosis, but as people, each with a life outside of the hospital that we need to respect and consider.”
Social Worker Lisa Thomas (right) recalls the pandemic when the In-patient Oncology department also took in COVID-19 patients because the hospital needed the beds. “I remember when a patient died on our ward, and I drove her belongings to the apartment of her 94-year-old mother, who was unable to leave her house because of the pandemic.”
2. “The two enemies to transplants are infection and rejection,” says Anne Lawler, a Social Worker on the Kidney Transplant Unit, and it is her job to help prevent either of these problems arising. Dedicated postoperative care is crucial, as Lawler has learned over her 31 years in post.
“I recently had a patient who was only 30 y>ears old, who had come to the U.S. from Thailand as a child. He had no family here, but he had a very closeknit circle of friends.” Lawler made sure she learned enough about the characters of the people in this group to feel comfortable signing off on the procedure. “They turned out to be extremely generous and kind. But they could have left him high and dry.”
4. Winsome Sewell (left), a Pediatric Pulmonary Social Worker for 34 years, started her job the same day as Irene Sprung (right), a Social Worker in the NICU who works with infant cardiac patients. She says: “Every mother feels a sense of responsibility. I am here to help them realize that it is not their fault.” Sewell, who works mainly with cystic fibrosis patients, recalls: “When I first started in 1988, these young people weren’t living past 20.
But treatment has improved greatly over the past 30 years. I provide them with long-term emotional support as they learn to manage their condition. Also, practical help, like finding grants to pay for medication that is not covered by insurance.”