Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Thank you, social workers

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."


Anonymous said...

Dear Paul

As ever a really interesting blog.

I am intrigued about what made you so passionate about this work group.

I am pssionate about this - but to be honest I came at it from a more 'business minded' tact .

In our institution the lack of support for social work means 35% of our unschedlued beds are occupied by patients awaiting social work input - as you can imagine the social workers had been moved off site!!

Of course as ever the win-win missed is that getting the care right - is not only good for patients and families it is also good for the bottom line!!

Anonymous said...

I actually did not consider the business aspects at all -- I was just really impressed with these folks and what they were doing --but since then I learned that what you say is correct -- so I guess I made a smart business decision by mistake!

Amy said...

What a good topic to blog about! I know that I turn to social work often when I encounter certain situations or patients and families on my floor. They are such an asset to me and the other staff for the services that they provide to the patients and families. I find they are always so receptive to my calls and requests for help, and the patients are always glad to talk with them. I always say thank you when they come out of a room, but its nice to see they get recognition from other places too! So - thanks to social work for everything you do!

Anonymous said...

How true this article is. I was recently involved in a series of meetings of "professional patients" who had experienced adverse medical event. The goal was to re write disclosure policies of a forward thinking hospital by sharing what we were grateful for and what was most unforgivable about the tragedies. The meetings were life changing for most of us in the room. People were actually listening to us and wanted to know how to improve from those that have been there.

One of the much older gentlemen in the group sat quietly and listened to all of the sad stories of abandonment and despair and lack of compassion from physicians and CEO. He also heard stories of a CEO holding a hand and a physician going to a funeral and a nurse staying after hours. He spoke up at the end and said, "I know the answer-we need more social workers on each floor. We need to show patients that we care and that they are the focus, especially when bad things happen. It is so clear." He didn't think that he added much to the discussion but I will always remember his offer of common sense.

Anonymous said...

Paul, read your "Kudos to Social
Workers" blog and wonder if in part
it was triggered by Social Work Month and the "Employer of the Year" awarded to you by Barb Sarnoff and her staff. Wonderful they thought you deserved the award. Congratulations. You forgot
to add "Thanks to the Nutritionists" as it is also Nutrition Month, I know that group
did not give a special award, but
they are an extremely hard working
group and deserve recognition and
appreciation as well. Would be
wonderful if large amounts of money
were afforded to this discipline
to create such programs. And, for
you record, I worked at the BI before it was BID. I worked extremely hard there and then left
for a local suburban institution
where I feel far more appreciated.
So please don't forget your
nutritionists....still time to say
"Thanks" to them as well, March is
not over yet.