Helping a patient and family through an illness involves a variety of health professionals who provide support in so many ways. That’s why the IWK Health Centre has approximately 60 social workers who are specialists in helping families and individuals in a medical setting figure out what else is needed to achieve and maintain good health and get them through a difficult time.
“Anyone who steps foot inside the IWK can have access to a social worker,” says Teresa Johnson, a social worker with the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at the IWK. “All you have to do is ask.”
Heather Prosser, also a social worker with the NICU, says that social workers not only look at the kind of help and emotional support people have within their immediate circle of family and friends, but also at what kinds of support they could access from government agencies, schools, not-for-profit organizations or the IWK itself.
Social workers in a health care setting are also concerned with the social determinants of health, which are elements of the living conditions an individual, or family, experiences. The primary factors that shape the health of Canadians are not medical treatments or lifestyle choices, but the living conditions they experience. This includes things like employment status, job security, education, housing, early childhood education and a social safety net.
Social workers can be found in all programs throughout the IWK Health Centre, including Mental Health & Addictions, Children’s Health and Women’s & Newborn Health. Social workers are dedicated to improving the physical health, mental health and well-being of patients and their families by working on the issues that they identify as concerns.
“Individuals and families may wish to speak to a social worker when they are feeling overwhelmed, worried, depressed or anxious,” says Prosser. At the IWK, these feelings could be brought on by having a sick child in the hospital, being away from a child who is at home, having a premature baby, the costs associated with travelling to the Health Centre, or dealing with your own health issues.
Johnson explains that each individual and family is unique so “social workers start where the family is at and services are based on what the family is saying that they need. We recognize that families come with their story and we help them tell us their story.”
Part of this storytelling process often involves counselling, which helps individuals and families figure out ways to generate options and alternatives. At the IWK, everyone believes that individuals and families are partners in the care that is provided. Patients and families will be fully informed and will be an integral part of treatment decisions, which are based on what the family identifies as their concern. “We want to provide families a safe place to explore their thoughts and feelings, their worries and their concerns,” says Johnson.
Social workers see individuals and families as the experts in their own lives and ask how they can be helpful. All individuals and families have strengths and social workers strive to help bring these strengths to the forefront during the problem-solving process.
“We know the questions to ask so we engage families in problem-solving by asking questions,” says Johnson.
Social workers aim to improve the lives of individuals and families. They are an important resource when individuals and families find themselves going through a difficult period.
Inside Your IWK is a joint project by the IWK Health Centre and IWK Foundation. To view some of the interview with Teresa Johnson and Heather Prosser, please see the video below: