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Celebrating Long-Term Care’s Unsung Heroes: Social Workers

“The Time Is Right for Social Work” – that’s the theme of this year’s Social Work Month, and we couldn’t agree more. So as March goes out – hopefully, like a lamb – we celebrate the 720,000 social workers in the US, with a special nod to those serving our residents and their families right here at  United Hebrew of New Rochelle.  

What Is the Role of Social Workers in Long-Term Care?

Everyone knows what social workers do – don’t they? The truth is that, even though most people kind of know, they’d probably be hard-pressed to come up with a definitive answer. Is “social worker” a general descriptive term like “manager” or “engineer” or is it a specific role with designated job functions and education requirements? Actually, it’s both.

In the broadest sense, social workers are specially trained professionals who help people cope with challenges and difficulties in different circumstances and situations. It’s the kind of help they provide and the settings in which they provide it that determine a social worker’s specific role. 

At United Hebrew, social workers are an integral and indispensable part of the care team, helping residents in long-term care in many aspects of their lives beginning as soon as they move into their new home.

Social Workers Help Ease the Transition to Long-Term Care 

Entering long-term care is a significant life change that requires adjustment. Social workers help new residents adjust to long-term care, whether they’ve been cared for by loved ones at home or are transitioning from short-term care. 

“It can be difficult for family members to make the decision to place their loved one in long-term care,” says Michael Bobrowski, United Hebrew’s Director of Social Services. “For adult children who’ve been caring for a parent, watching their parent decline cognitively or physically is hard and it can make them feel helpless. They may also feel guilty that they can no longer care for their parent on their own.” 

Social workers at United Hebrew help ease the transition for both residents and their families. Before long, families realize that they haven’t “abandoned” their loved one, but have actually helped them receive optimal care, which can greatly improve and enhance their quality of life. Adds Bobrowski, “Knowing that their loved one is safe and cared for is a great relief for families and it eliminates any misgivings or hesitation they may have had initially about long-term care.”

Social Workers in Long-Term Care Wear Many Hats

Among other things, United Hebrew’s social work team ensures that each resident’s day-to-day needs are being met. They address questions or concerns and ensure that family members are kept apprised of their loved ones’ care.

Bobrowski’s team of social workers are out there on the front lines daily, visiting residents, meeting with other members of their care teams, connecting with families, offering counseling or making referrals to mental health and other professionals when needed.

“We interact with residents every single day,” says United Hebrew social worker Delma Sansone. “Of course, there are routine aspects of our job, like making assessments and writing reports. But much of what we do is determined by our residents and their needs, which can change. In that sense, every day is different.” 

Here are some of the “hats” social workers wear in long-term care:

  • Advocate: One of the main roles of a social worker in long-term care is that of resident advocate. “If a resident or their family member has a concern, I serve as their advocate when meeting with nurses or other members of the care team to discuss issues and solutions,” says Sansone.  
  • Counselor: Social workers provide emotional and psychosocial counseling and support in several ways. Sometimes, they work one-on-one with residents. “This can be something as simple as sitting and chatting for a bit,” says Sansone. “And sometimes it’s more involved.” It depends, says Bobrowski, “on the nature of the problem. If needed, we can make referrals to our psychology or psychiatry staff. A psychiatrist generally manages medications, while a psychologist will provide talk therapy.”  
  • Liaison: Social workers in long-term care serve as an important link between residents, the care team, and the patient’s family. “This helps ensure clear and accurate communication between everyone concerned,” says Bobrowski. “If we notice that a resident has a change in demeanor or behavior, we’ll alert the family and the care team. If we sense they’re feeling a bit lonely, we may suggest an outing or more social activities. Again, it depends on the resident’s needs.”  

Social Work Is More Than Just a Job

One of the hardest parts of a social worker’s job is recognizing when a resident’s health is declining. “It’s impossible not to be affected,” says Bobrowski. “We’ve developed personal relationships with our residents, and it makes us sad. But our responsibility is to comfort them as much as possible and to help prepare the family.” 

Bobrowski admits that he and his team do have to “step back a little when a resident passes away, but it’s very hard.” Still, says Bobrowski, “our work is incredibly rewarding. And the most beautiful part of the job is having that connection.”