Reaching out to Hospital Social Workers: EA Professionals Can Help Ensure the Best Medical Care and Follow-Up Treatment for Hospitalized Workers and Family Members by Forging Links with Social Workers at Hospitals

By Schuetze, Kim | The Journal of Employee Assistance, January 2004 | Go to article overview

Reaching out to Hospital Social Workers: EA Professionals Can Help Ensure the Best Medical Care and Follow-Up Treatment for Hospitalized Workers and Family Members by Forging Links with Social Workers at Hospitals


Schuetze, Kim, The Journal of Employee Assistance


Employee assistance professionals and hospital social workers share many common bonds. Both work to improve the health, well-being, and productivity of individuals, one in the workplace, the other in hospitals. Both are trained to assess and intervene on specific problems, both speak the language of caregiving, and both provide resources to meet the needs of individuals and their families.

In my experience, unfortunately, hospital social workers and EA professionals often do not work closely together. This is not because one party or the other is unwilling; rather, because each focuses on a specific environment, the two do not naturally come into contact with one another on a regular basis.

I believe there is ample opportunity to change the status quo. Rather than remain in their separate domains, hospital social workers and EA professionals can forge important links and greatly enhance the resources available to them and the clients they serve.

For this to happen, hospital social workers and EA professionals must first understand the resources that each provides to the employee who is hospitalized or whose spouse, child, or other close family member is hospitalized. The next step is to facilitate referrals while respecting the employee's or family member's confidentiality and need to authorize any direct contact. The end result of such cooperation will be better case management, helping an individual obtain needed resources in a timely fashion while minimizing stresses and negative outcomes of major life events.

"What you have are two professional colleagues who are experts in different areas of life that impinge upon the client--the hospital and the workplace," says Paula Gelber Dromi, Ph.D., LCSW, an adjunct faculty member at California State University Northridge and a commissioner with the Commission for Case Manager Certification (CCMC) who also conducts trainings and workshops on aging for social workers and other professionals. "The ultimate professional mission of both groups is to help the client function in a maximum capacity for his/her particular situation and receive whatever help is necessary to allow that individual to continue as a productive and effective employee."

A SUCCESS STORY

To illustrate the positive impact that can result from greater cooperation, consider the following success story. A young man suffered a massive heart attack and needed cardiac rehabilitation. He had limited financial resources which, coupled with his traumatic health problems, caused stress in his marriage.

As a hospital social worker, I recognized he needed both counseling as well as ongoing medical treatment if he hoped to recover fully. Given his financial situation, he couldn't afford weekly sessions with a psychotherapist. The obvious solution was to explore other options, including therapy through the EAP offered by his employer.

The man took my suggestion and contacted the EAE An EA professional visited the hospital to conduct the initial assessment. By the time he left the hospital, the employee/patient was able to secure the help he needed, and I had the satisfaction of knowing he was in good hands after he left my care. This was affirmed a year later when he came to the hospital for a regular checkup. His health had improved, and counseling provided by the EAP had helped his marriage. He summed up his condition simply, telling me, "It's working."

Looking back on my career, I wish I had more stories like this to tell. The troth, however, is that "handoffs" between hospital social workers and EA professionals do not occur frequently All too often, when an employee is hospitalized or a family member is ill or injured, the EAP is a forgotten resource.

The reasons for this are many. In a medical trauma, employees and family members focus on what is happening at the moment. A hospital social worker with a full caseload may not think to ask whether the patient's employer has an EAP. …

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