Support for Patients and Families: Another Side of Hospital Care

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Support for Patients and Families: Another Side of Hospital Care
Lisa May, shown here in one of the family rooms at Children’s Specialty Care, is a key link to patients and their families in her role as a hospital social worker.

Social Worker and Employee of the Month honoree Lisa May works closely with patients and families when they need support.

It’s been a little over a year since Lisa May was hired as Renown’s Children’s Specialty Care Social Worker. While she’s experienced a lot in that time — and met and supported many patients and their families— she says her biggest revelation has been with the caregivers themselves.

Support for Patients and Families: Another Side of Hospital Care
Lisa May, shown here in one of the family rooms at Children’s Specialty Care, is a key link to patients and their families in her role as a hospital social worker.

“We really work well together and have all the disciplines represented: physicians, dietitians, therapists, nurses,” Lisa outlines. “I’ve never really experienced that many people available to care for a patient, both in the hospital and in an outpatient setting – everyone’s working together to care for the patient and support the family.”

 

March is National Social Work Month, and it honors people like Lisa who provide this vital service to patients. Lisa has been a social worker for 10 years, with previous experience at other hospitals and Washoe County Child Protective Services.

She says her previous experiences have helped her in her role in Children’s Specialty Care, a unit in the hospital for children with chronic illness including cystic fibrosis, cancer and lung disease.  That unit also partners with the University of California-Davis health network and other regional hospitals to help with continuum of a patient’s care.

Lisa’s work also goes beyond the hospital walls.

She’s a key part of the care coordination that takes place to make sure treatments are successful. That might be making sure they have a home health nurse or physical or occupational therapist that works with the patient. It may also mean helping with travel expenses or getting subsidized care elsewhere so the healing can continue.

This advocacy stretches to include the schools, if a young patient needs certain accommodations in order to continue their education. Plus, there is working with insurance companies, as Lisa often writes appeal letters to make sure a patient has access to medication and treatment that may otherwise be denied.

It was one of these efforts, on behalf of a patient who she helped get placed on a list for a lung transplant, which earned Lisa an honor as Employee of the Month for Renown this past September.

Family time

It was family that led Lisa to health care originally. For the past 13 years, her parents, Janet and Robert May, have been permanently caring for Sarah, a cousin who has a traumatic brain injury.

“I decided to become a social worker after I saw first-hand how they helped us during that time with the support and advocacy for Sarah,” Lisa continues.

Lisa also meets with families and patients when there a chronic illness diagnosis.  She says that navigating through the different programs and resources available for families is a crucial part of her work as a social worker. Yet, it’s more than that; there are also emotional waters to help navigate.

“I help them with the process and through the emotions they go through — anger, fear, grief, anxiety,” Lisa explains. “I provide them with support and encouragement, and for the whole family unit.”

In her role with the family, Lisa takes the time to get to know everyone and what works well for everyone as far a support goes. She says that it takes a while sometimes to build rapport, but being an active listener and being in tune with how they respond to emotions helps things along.

Part of this also goes beyond just talking about treatment options and contingency plans. Lisa believes it’s important to celebrate good things that happen day-to-day, everything from birthdays to good grades. It not only takes the mind temporarily off the illness, but also adds some normalcy to their lives.

Even when a patient has left Renown, Lisa often maintains close contact with the families, continuing the cycle of healing in many ways.

“Even if they’ve completed their treatment successfully, I still reach out to them in order to see how things are going. I think just keeping open communication is important, because they will feel comfortable reaching out to you if something else is needed,” she says.

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