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Social Work: Are We Essential Workers?

For some, what unfortunately comes to mind when you think of social work, many have this idea of a child protective caseworker coming to your home to remove your child.

I am a fulltime inpatient psychiatric social worker during the week at Bronx hospital, and every other weekend I am the emergency room social worker in a different large Bronx hospital. In both hospitals, in each setting and circumstance, internal and external resources surrounding complex care coordination do not occur without input and or involvement of a highly skilled, diligent and well versed social worker.

In light of the Covid 19 pandemic, the question of whether social workers are essential workers has come up quite a bit over the last year.

We are indeed essential workers; specifically in and during this last year. Social Work was and is at the forefront of the pandemic providing grief and bereavement counseling services to thousands of families who’ve lost loved ones as well as families learning to navigate the terrain of undefined feelings and emotions regarding the challenges of adjusting to new ways of experiencing life. We have been therapists at the patient bedside encouraging them, in the emergency room waiting room, and in the hospital lobby meeting with families when visitors were restricted or not allowed. We’re there. In the emergency room, the attending physician does not call the psychiatrist 1st. The physician calls Social Work because they understand the Social Worker has an uncanny knack for collecting and gathering the precise collateral information needed to make an informed decision regarding patient care. Our input is invaluable and often determines whether a patient is admitted or discharged home with or without services. We’re there.

In inpatient psychiatry our presence cannot be understated. By law a patient on an inpatient unit, cannot leave or be discharged without Social Work ensuring adequate follow up mental health services are in place. We are charged with the responsibility of securing the necessary wrap around services to prevent avoidable readmissions. To be fair, there is a supporting cast in the interdisciplinary team, however, Social Workers provide the psychoeducation during group and individual regarding medication management, anger management, substance use.

Written by Rai Rance, LCSW

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