Social workers are on the frontlines and are doing difficult work under intense pressure
Randall* was 38 years old when he was admitted to HSC Winnipeg in the Fall of 2022. He was dealing with substance abuse and had been admitted to HSC several times before. Randall wanted to get treatment, but he had severe anxiety about what his housing options would be upon discharge, so he never pursued proper care.
Finding housing for patients is one of the many skills a social worker has, and they did just that for Randall. But it’s not always as simple as just finding housing. Social workers needed to help Randall file ten years’ worth of taxes, acquire a Manitoba health card, and find furniture, in addition to helping him get residential treatment for his substance abuse issues.
“It was about demystifying the system and letting him know that the barriers he was experiencing were similar to ones that others experienced, that the slow progression was normal,” said Randall’s social worker.*
Randall has since finished his treatment, has acquired stable housing, and has resumed contact with his children. Social workers at HSC helped him get the treatment he wanted and needed after many years of substance abuse.
Finding housing and treatment are only some of the responsibilities a social worker at HSC Winnipeg has, and those responsibilities change constantly, sometimes by the hour. No two days look anything alike in the longest-running social work program in Canada. The work is fast-paced, and constantly requires social workers to assess and reassess how they approach each patient, each day, and each hour.
Lisa Manning, Manager of Patient Care—Social Work, started working at HSC in 2006. Social work came naturally to her thanks to family members who worked in the field. Manning oversees 65 social workers throughout eight of HSC’s departments. She feels fortunate that she is the manager of such a fantastic team of experts.
“Part of the role of hospital social work is to understand who the patients are, and act as the bridge between the patient, the health care team, and the community,” says Manning. “We look at how social determinants of health—such as food security, housing, employment, accessible health care, and more—can influence a patient’s health outcomes.”
“We also have to engage with community partners to build relationships and ensure patients have basic necessities,” says Sarah Paquin, Social Work Clinical Service Leader—Mental Health Program. “It’s our responsibility to engage different supports and services to ensure a patient’s safe discharge.”
Social workers often work with the most vulnerable members of society and help them access health care and social supports. Each patient is managed based on their level of risk, priorities, health, and many other factors. While Manning and Paquin don’t often meet with patients directly, they support their respective teams in whatever ways possible.
“I consider part of my responsibility as helping my staff navigate the community systems we work with and supporting staff in the work that they do,” says Manning. “Whether that’s bringing in speakers for different resources, building relationships with community partners, or supporting discharge planning.”
Paquin, who provides clinical support to social workers in HSC’s Mental Health Program, agrees with Manning. “Supporting the social work team is the most rewarding part of my role. They are doing the difficult work of meeting patients in the context of multiple barriers.”
While the work may be difficult, Manning says HSC is an exciting place to be for a social worker. With the diversity of medical professionals and a diverse patient population, social work at HSC is constantly changing and is full of opportunities to learn. Manning and Paquin both see this as a reason why their teams are full of strong, collaborative, and supportive social workers.
Your gift today will help the HSC Foundation continue to provide care and support to the most vulnerable members in our society. This is the population that social workers help most often. To donate, please click here, or call 204-515-5612 or 1-800-679-8493 (toll-free).
World Social Work Day—March 21, 2023—is a day to recognize the hard work and diligence of social workers.
By Andrew Lysack
*Names changed or excluded for patient privacy