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No Stone Unturned
Social workers dig deep to provide patients with resources.
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Multi-tasking social worker Emily Cronkite always finds time to chat with her patients.

If there were an Academy Award for exceptional hospital social workers, a fitting name for it might be “Best Supporting Health Care Worker.” Indeed, this group of professionals not only assesses and sorts through patients’ complex psychosocial issues but also provides counseling, connects them with community resources and collaborates with medical staff to develop safe care plans. And they often do all this behind the scenes, in preparation for a patient’s discharge.

Lacking recognition from the Academy, social workers throughout the institution are celebrating National Professional Social Work Month. The commemoration raises awareness about the profession while providing an opportunity for social workers to reflect on their history and celebrate their roles.

Only 20 percent of social workers nationwide choose health care as their specialty. At The Johns Hopkins Hospital, where groundbreaking social work services have spanned 102 years, adaptability has been a key to their success. Every day, an army of 100 social workers in East Baltimore, plus 27 at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center and four at Howard County General Hospital, navigates confusing insurance plans and myriad other resources within the context of each patient’s unique situation.

Hopkins Hospital medical/surgical trauma social worker Emily Cronkite is but one example of a social worker who practices that balancing act in a variety of settings. On a recent afternoon, she was paged to the surgical intensive care unit and learned that an unidentified young man had been struck by a car. He’d suffered a traumatic brain injury and multiple fractures. After quickly assessing the situation, Cronkite contacted Baltimore City Police to help identify the patient. As a result, she was able to locate his family.

She soon discovered that the family spoke only Spanish, so she called International Services to help with translation. Throughout the patient’s hospitalization, Cronkite arranged regular family meetings to discuss his status and future care needs. In addition, she contacted the Hispanic Apostolate, which specializes in providing services to Spanish-speaking families.

At the appropriate time, Cronkite focused on developing a safe discharge plan. She managed to find short-term medical insurance, which would allow him inpatient placement for physical rehabilitation.

That patient is but one of the 20 to 30 patients on Cronkite’s caseload. At 27, Cronkite is just beginning to build her resume, but for the past two years, she says, she’s had plenty of practice securing resources.

Cronkite admits to having had trying days. Many of her patients are addicted to drugs and alcohol. “It’s a hard subject to broach,” she says, particularly for patients who refuse care or who have no resources or family support. To counter burnout, Cronkite plays violin for the Columbia Orchestra, takes photos and hangs out with friends. Yet despite hospital social work’s frustrations, Cronkite acknowledges the rewards. “It’s the small things that mean so much,” she says. “Like when a patient smiles at me and says, You’re the only person who seems to understand.”

–Judy F. Minkove

 

 

Johns Hopkins Medicine

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