I sometimes say that our doctors and nurses cure the patients, but the social workers heal the families. The Social Work Department has a pervasive presence in the hospital by assisting patients and families with a huge range of problems. Social workers are the unsung heroes in many regards, helping patients and families through extremely stressful situations.
But beyond patient consultations, the department also is involved in many special programs that are highly regarded: Celebration of Life; DriveWise; more than fifteen support groups for patients and families; the Room Away from Home program, annually providing housing for hundreds of needy out-of-town patients and families; Cancer Navigator, a program designed to assist patients of color to access and utilize cancer services; the patient special needs fund; and the Patient-to-Patient, Heart-to-Heart volunteer program for cancer patients.
Several years ago, our hospital was in financial meltdown, and the social work department was a target because so many of its services were not reimbursed by insurance companies. In fiscal year 2000, the department had about 43 FTEs. By 2002, it had been cut to 28, a reduction of 15 FTEs or 35%.
Even though we were in dire financial straits, I decided that we needed to enhance our social work staff and program. We needed more people, and we needed to put more money into professional development programs to maintain the expertise of our staff.
In our 2003 Strategic Plan, I challenged our Board to expand this program and other programs that had shrunk over the years but that were important to help maintain our reputation for warmth, caring, and compassion, and to prove our commitment to the neighborhoods of Boston. As I look back at it now, I made what was a rather pushy request:
The cost of [expanding these programs] rises from approximately $500,000 in fiscal year 2004 to $1.3 million in fiscal year 2007. Our strategic recommendation is that the Board of Directors commit itself and the other governing bodies to cover these costs on an annual basis from unrestricted donations. . . . Just as the Board of Directors is expecting every doctor, nurse, and administrator to make a full-fledged commitment to the success of BIDMC, so too should it be willing to make as strong a pledge of behalf of the lay members of the community who are given governance privileges for this institution.
The response from our lay leaders was immediate and unequivocal. I had asked them to increase their annual gifts by 15% in the first year to cover the new program costs. Instead, they responded with a fifty percent increase in donations!
This was a moving and incredible statement of support from our lay leaders. I believe their response emanated from a desire to express their appreciation to the staff and to say in part, "Thank you, social workers."