Healthcare Social Worker’s Role Results in Better Patient Outcomes

By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant

A vital cog in how healthcare organizations function, healthcare social workers’ role improves patient outcomes, reduces rehospitalizations and promotes better patient satisfaction. Among their job duties, the healthcare social worker acts as a liaison between the patient or patient’s family and the helpful resources within the community and within the healthcare organization.

In addition to case management and crisis intervention, they may also help families with insurance questions, provide counseling and help break down barriers to care. While these are all important issues, they are not clinical issues which is where healthcare providers focus.

“Healthcare social workers are very important in the discharge process,” said Stephen Hanse, president and CEO of the New York State Health Facilities Association, Inc, headquartered in Albany and representing facilities statewide. “They know the skilled nursing facilities in the community. They’ll reach out to see if they have the ability to receive a new patient for subacute care. Sometimes there are issues where the location doesn’t work.”

The Bureau of Labor Statistics states that $51,110 is the annual mean wage for healthcare social workers in the Western New York area.

For patients about to discharge from the hospital, healthcare social workers may help set up needed support at home, such as a home health nurse. They may refer the patient to agencies that can help them get the equipment they need and set up transportation to doctor’s visits.

At nursing homes, healthcare social workers also help ease transition of care.

“They may work with the hospitals and coordinate incoming patients for the care needed,” Hanse said. “Different providers have different skills. Some have certain expertise, like traumatic brain injury. It is unique to the situation and circumstances of the patient.”

Healthcare social workers may also screen patients for mental health issues such as depression and substance use disorders. They help address any barriers to receiving physical and mental healthcare, including cognition challenges and limited finances.

Many facilities employing healthcare social works require applicants to possess the credential of a licensed clinical social worker. Some require a master’s trained social worker; a few may hire registered nurses with the right background. In any case, on-the-job training helps healthcare social workers learn the ropes.

In addition, it is helpful if healthcare social worker is “organized, able to see a situation holistically and to think critically about situations and has the ability to build relationships with the individual’s family and within other organizations. This ranges from food banks to schools to other places where the person is living, working and thriving,” said Kat Procknal, assistant professor of social work at Daemen College.

Healthcare social workers in hospitals work to ensure discharging patients can live safely in the community, whether in a short-term rehabilitation facility, the home of a relative or in their own home. Discharging patients capable of recuperating elsewhere helps free up space for more critical patients.

Procknal foresees continuing employment opportunities for healthcare social workers to keep pace with the healthcare needs of swelling number of healthcare consumers and those in need of mental healthcare and to help facilitate additional safe, community-based care.

“The more social workers we have in these areas, the better,” she said. “Sixty percent of the people providing mental health services are social workers.”