Meet Michigan Medicine: Department of Social Work

May 24, 2018  //  FOUND IN: Our Employees,

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Providing exceptional care takes the work of an entire team of specialists — individuals who are dedicated to ensuring that patients achieve optimal health outcomes.

This interdisciplinary team of experts includes doctors, nurses, dietitians, physical therapists and others who focus on the physical well-being of patients.

But physical healing is just one component of patient care. Equally important is an individual’s mental and emotional health. That’s why the patient care team at Michigan Medicine also includes members of the Department of Social Work.

“Our staff members focus on psychosocial — and often non-medical — issues that patients may deal with at any stage of their care,” said Josh Brewster, LMSW, director of the Department of Social Work at Michigan Medicine. “If there is something causing a patient stress or anxiety or that is preventing them from accessing medical care, we’re there for them.”

Here’s what you may not know about Social Work, the department that partners with patients to help them navigate their health care challenges.

Providing support whenever, wherever

The department is made up of nearly 250 social workers embedded across the organization. Many work in outpatient settings, though there are some devoted to psychiatric inpatients at both University Hospital and C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital, as well as programs that support inpatient and outpatient populations. The department’s social workers also work collaboratively with social workers in the Department of Care Management and elsewhere in the organization to ensure the psychosocial needs of patients and families are addressed.

“Patients and families are not always aware that they have social workers available to them, and needs can often be unpredictable,” Brewster said. “It’s important that all of our staff at Michigan Medicine are well-informed of our services and how to connect patients to a social worker as needs arise.”

Social workers carry out a wide variety of tasks, including psychosocial assessment, coping and adjustment to illness, counseling, crisis intervention, advocacy, guidance on health care decisions and end of life care.

While some social workers are trained to be general practitioners, others’ work can be highly-specialized — some are trained to work with a variety of mental health or medical diagnoses while others are experts in working with certain populations, such as children or geriatric patients.

“By becoming an expert at working with a specific patient population — who have unique needs and concerns — we ensure that we are providing the best level of care and offering the best patient experience possible at Michigan Medicine,” Brewster said.

Filling the GAP

The social work team also runs a number of programs that help patients and families overcome obstacles that may stand in their way.

Programs like the Guest Assistance Program (GAP), which helps patients with financial needs such as finding transportation to and from appointments, lodging or prescription concerns.

GAP’s main goal is alleviating barriers that often accompany health care challenges: “GAP is focused on making a difference when it comes to the social determinants of health,” Brewster said. “We don’t want a lack of access to transportation or healthy food affect whether or not a patient gets the care he or she needs.”

The department is also home to the social workers in the Office of Decedent Affairs, who assist patients and families at the end of life, and often partner with the Department of Spiritual Care to ensure that any individual’s spiritual needs are met.

Influencing future generations

In addition to helping patients and families, Michigan Medicine also serves as a training ground for the next generation of social workers.

“Each year, we have between 50 and 60 social work students from across the state spending time at Michigan Medicine as part of their Master’s or Bachelor’s degree programs,” Brewster said. “On top of that, we have a post-graduate fellowship program in the outpatient psychiatry clinic.”

Team members are also involved in the research enterprise of the organization, especially in fields such as mental health and geriatric care.

No matter what role they play, Brewster said everyone in his department is focused on providing patient- and family-centered care.

“Coming to the hospital is not always a joyous occasion,” Brewster said. “But if we can help address some of the non-medical needs, or help individuals become stronger, they will heal faster and respond better to treatment. That’s a responsibility our team carries out with enthusiasm and compassion every single day.”

If you’d like to refer a patient to the Department of Social Work, call 734-764-6893 or email SocWk-Gapstaff@med.umich.edu. Or if you want Michigan Medicine to meet your department, let Headlines know

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