Our Delegates: Social Worker Joanne RutlandApril 16, 2019
Service to others is a family value.
Mount Sinai Social Worker Joanne Rutland was thirteen when she started working in health care.
“I started volunteering at Einstein Hospital in the Bronx as a candy striper. My mother did not allow idle time and taught us that a paycheck was not the be-all and end-all—that it was important to find fulfillment through helping others in any work we are doing,” says Rutland.
Today, Rutland is still walking the path her mother set her on, with a 32-year career in social work that’s spanned four boroughs and as many specialties; she’s worked in addiction and recovery, psychiatry, and with blind people. Rutland’s currently working at Manhattan’s Mount Sinai West Hospital in Labor & Delivery (L&D) and its related areas, a field she entered when she took a job in 1994 at downtown Manhattan’s Beth Israel Medical Center.
Rutland, who is athletic and energetic, serves a broad spectrum of patient needs and conditions in L&D, from neo-natal to post-partum care.
“When I came into [the field] there was so much to learn. I blinked my eyes and three years went by. It’s all just so interesting and exciting,” she says. “I’ve worked with 15-year-old new mothers, helped place babies for adoption, and worked with mothers who have experienced neo-natal demise and still birth. People think pregnancy is a benign medical condition.
Much has changed over three decades (including a Mount Sinai/Beth Israel merger), but Rutland still zealously discusses her work as a calling.
“It’s very important to not lose focus on people’s humanity in this work. You can never lose perspective on yourself and what could occur in people’s life situations,” says Rutland.
“You have to have compassion and understanding. You must be aware of the struggle and indifference people have experienced. If you touch one person, you have made a difference.”
Those values, she says, are inherited and credits her parents for raising their children in a progressive, forward- thinking household.
“I grew up with parents who were leftists and political activists.
"You have to have compassion and understanding. You have to be aware of the struggle and indifference people have experienced. If you touch one person, you have made a difference."
JOANNE RUTLAND Social Worker at Mount Sinai West in NYC.
They brought me and my brothers to see Olatunji and Paul Robeson. My mother helped organize the New York Eye and Ear. She lost her job over it. I grew up with culture. I grew up with diversity. They were part of my upbringing and I draw on that at work and in my practice,” she says.
As a delegate, Rutland tries to raise Union consciousness among her fellow social workers but admits it can be challenging. She sees communication as the key.
“Social workers have issues with their ability to advocate for themselves.
That is a theme throughout our profession and we need to address it. We are such great advocates for others, but when we have an issue, our voice is nonexistent.”
“We need to get back to grassroots organizing,” she says.
“And we are in an era of such change that it can be hard to bring that philosophy forward,” she adds, but she presses on, using her own life as an example.
“I was able to work my way through school and get my graduate degree from Adelphi University with help from our Training and Upgrading Fund,” she says. “We here at Mount Sinai are a real testament to the strength of the union. It’s vital to maintain that dignity in the work environment. We need to make sure people understand that our benefits don’t fall from the sky.”