Abra Kelson Describes the Role of Social Workers as Part of Care Management Teams

There are so many different areas that a social worker can help with in a medical practice that they can be more a case manager, pointing patients to resources for financial assistance, looking at their insurance, or helping with disability, said Abra Kelson, MSW, LSWA-IC, medical social work supervisor, Northwest Medical Specialties.

As a social worker, how do you fit into the care management team in healthcare?
It actually fits really well in healthcare. As a social worker, there’s so many different areas that you can help with, so you can be more kind of a case manager, pointing to resources to financial assistance, looking at their insurance, helping with disability—things like that. But then also there’s the emotional side where we are licensed mental health professionals and we can assess for depression and anxiety and other emotional concerns and then offer that support of counseling, as well.

Someone with cancer is definitely not isolated from those concerns of anybody else in the world that might be having problems with transportation, or problems with finances, or housing, or depression, or anxiety, or any other host of mental health issues.

As healthcare practices evolve how they deliver care, how has your role within the team changed?
I have, personally, felt and experienced drastic changes in my position here as a social worker. When I started, I was kind of the introduction to the practice: these are the different areas and of the practice and people that you might come in contact with, kind of a general type thing. And then I, on my own regard, said “no, we need to screen for distress, and I need to see what kind of practical issues, social, emotional issues that these people are facing because I can tackle that.” I really started doing a lot more case management type stuff—referrals, resources, that kind of thing.

But as value-based care has been transitioned into our practice we’ve been able to expand these programs and add in patient navigators who can work on barriers to care, who can help with those practical concerns. We’ve added case managers who are monitoring [emergency department] utilization and things like that. And so now, as the social worker, we’re able to work to a fuller capacity to focus on the emotional and focus on the social and helping to adjust to illness or loss and grief or anxiety and depression—other mental health concerns that are directly related and impacted to their cancer diagnosis.
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