Recognizing Social Workers on World Social Work Day
Dialysis patients and their families are often unaware of the breadth of support and resources available to them. These include transportation options, support groups, educational programs, financial resources and more. Having access to social workers and fully understanding the skill set of the social workers can greatly enhance the quality of patients’ lives and help them to manage their diseases. Social workers can provide them with information, connect them with resources, counsel them on coping and adjustment and assist with coordinating their care.
The unique role of the social worker is similar to the role the kidneys play in the body. Social workers promote smooth functioning and cohesiveness between patients and their care team. Like the kidneys’ daily work of filtering blood, social workers process many projects, often with low visibility. Homer W. Smith, Sc. D., American physiologist and visionary researcher in kidney disease and science, observed that the body can continue to function without immediate danger to its survival if body parts fail—except for the kidneys. Like the kidneys, if social workers aren’t available or are unable to fulfill their unique, clinical role, the daily operations of dialysis centers would be impacted.
Social workers are on the front lines of patient-related services. They help connect patients with resources for accessing transportation to get to dialysis centers for treatment and clinics for follow-up appointments. They educate patients on medications and other resources that are vital to support disease management. Along with their role as a case manager, social workers counsel and empower patients to help them navigate the roller coaster ride of dialysis including, at times, the transplant process and end-of-life planning.
Social worker contributions can matter in small ways, such as arranging a family compromise, or in more significant ways, such as helping a severely disabled patient apply for access to grant funding to have a ramp built at his home for greater accessibility and a better quality of life. There are also so many countless acts in between, which often involve helping the patients’ family members adapt to managing and coping with the demands of the disease. Social workers also help educate healthcare teams on the unique challenges patients experience and best approaches and interventions. However big or small, social workers play a vital role on dialysis center care teams, and most importantly, in patients’ lives.