Meeting focuses on social work health care

Apr 9, 2013

By Paul R. Pace, News staff

As health care in America explores new territory with the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, social workers need to stake a claim to their roles as part of the health care team.

Ashley Varner, an oncology social worker at the DeCesaris Cancer Institute at Anne Arundel Medical Center, speaks at the Strategies for Strengthening Health Care Social Work meeting.

That sentiment was consistent among social work leaders from various health care settings who recently participated in a meeting called “Strategies for Strengthening Health Care Social Work.” The discussion was held in February at NASW’s national office.

Terry Altilio, social work coordinator at Beth Israel Medical Center’s Department of Pain Medicine and Palliative Care in New York City, was among the speakers. She said now is the time to promote the value of social work in health care.

“We have to assert our skill sets and show our integrity … ,” she said. “We need to be leaders, not followers.”

Altilio added that social workers have a “bird’s eye view” of a client.

“No one else has that training,” she said. “We listen differently than any other profession.”

Time is of the essence to promote the value of social work among colleagues, noted Krista Nelson, an oncology social worker from Providence Portland Medical Center in Portland, Ore.

She said in an age where social work services are being integrated into health care, social workers should highlight the economic benefits of client psychosocial care to administrators and peers.

“We need to think about what opportunities we have,” she said.

Taking the concept further, James Zabora, director of Life with Cancer at the Inova Health System in Fairfax, Va., said there is need to demonstrate the effectiveness of social workers in patient outcome reports.

“We need to be in the prevention arena,” he told attendees.

Zabora said it is known that distressed patients are more likely to be hospitalized.

“Mental health and health benefits need to come together,” he said, adding that both must be treated simultaneously to deliver maximum benefit for clients.

Health care prevention efforts are skills associated with social workers, said Betty Ruth, a clinical social work professor and director of the Dual Degree Program in Social Work and Public Health at Boston University.

Many of the services the profession provides are prevention-oriented, she told attendees.

“Social workers are doing prevention but we don’t call it that,” she said. “Because we don’t call it that, we don’t get any money for it.”

She noted that prevention of health disparities is vital to reducing health care costs.

“We need to back up and examine the money we spend on treatment,” Ruth said.

From the April 2013 NASW News. NASW members click here for the full story.