Spotlight on Social Work: The evolution of Social Work at Texas Children’s

March 20, 2018

The month of March is not only for Spring break and preparing for the Easter holiday, but it is also nationally recognized as Social Work Month. Texas Children’s social workers are a large part of the hospital’s success. When most people think of social work, the most relatable aspect of the job is helping and protecting others, most commonly through behavioral health. These community servants are known to positively enhance a child or family’s overall well-being.

Along with the rest of Texas Children’s, diversity is extremely prevalent when it comes to our social workers. This diversity is also included in the way social workers approach each patient’s situation. These highly trained individuals are represented in many different units in the hospital, and all have a common goal of helping patients and families with life changes associated with health care, childbirth, and/or hospitalization.

Hester De Jong is a clinical social worker in the maternal and fetal unit. De Jong is originally from Amsterdam, but moved to the United States from Norway. When she eventually realized she was allowed to get an education in this country, she immediately enrolled in school. After meeting several social workers during her matriculation, she knew exactly what she wanted to do.

“It’s been really great, it probably wouldn’t have been what I would have done back home because it never crossed my path, but here it’s really been awesome,” said De Jong. “I really enjoyed going to school, my internships, my first job, and it’s been great.”

Despite her own accomplishments and personal success story, De Jong says that it’s the connection and life changing moments that she has with her patients, and helping them move past their road blocks that means the most.

“I think it’s the interaction with people, said De Jong. “The opportunity you have to be a part of this very personal journey of someone’s is really precious.”

After a patient or family is referred to a social worker, they provide an assessment to develop a plan of care. This plan is then tailored to how each social worker operates in their particular unit. Social workers are trained to seek out hospital and community resources to maintain and increase opportunities to support the individualized needs of each patient and family.

There are several different types of areas that require social workers such as school, community, military and substance abuse, just to name a few.

Texas Children’s employees are medical social workers, who specializes in public health, geriatric and child palliative care, inpatient and outpatient medical, and mental health.

Over the years, the occupation in the medical field has evolved drastically and become more skill intensive, so that our patients receive the highest level of care. Today, our hospital social workers include both basic needs for family’s physical health and safety, as well as focusing on their mental health.

“Mental health is a big part of social work,” said De Jong. “Helping patients figure out how they are going to cope with this bad news, how are they going to cope with a horrible diagnosis is a big part.”

The social work program has grown immensely since the beginning. Vivian Clark has been a pediatric clinical social worker for Texas Children’s for over a decade. She has experienced many different changes that have resulted in our social worker’s success.

“When I started there were 20 social workers and people really recognized that social worked were needed 24 hours a day,” said Clark. “We have grown three times since I started.”

The social work program takes pride in being highly educated and intensely trained. Social workers at Texas Children’s have their Master’s degree which prepares them to have expertise in assessing individuals and families in an effort to enhance social functioning and well-being. They also emphasize healthy employee relationships that encourages each social worker to share their experiences and mentor others on the team.

Lorenzo Benavides is one of the newest social workers on 11 West Tower, the general surgery, trauma, and orthopedic unit. With less than a year of social work experience at Texas Children’s under his belt, he says that he has learned a lot from other social workers who have been in the field longer.

“The biggest piece of advice that I’ve been given is to know when to catch my breath a little bit,” said Benavides. “I’m very much a fast-paced person, and for me if I was in the family’s shoes I would want things to be done quickly, so I do that as a way of serving them.”

Texas Children’s social workers also affects a wide range of people such as patients, their families, and even employees.

“Social workers are here, really, to support all that’s going on with the patient and family, but they’re also supporting staff, said Mary Tietjens, assistant director of Clinical Support Services. “With their background, they have the training to do emotional support and coping. Some social workers on our team even have their therapy license where they can actually go and do therapy in the community.”

As part of her plan of care, Clark implemented support groups that brings people together that are going through similar situations to participate in activities that eases their mind and gives them someone to talk to. After realizing how successful it was, Clark then decided to apply this strategy to her co-workers, which eventually helped with employee retention in the Progressive Care Unit (PCU).

“What I found is that nurses didn’t place a high priority on the importance of taking care of themselves,” said Clark. “I’ve seen a lot of people still get together and just kind of debrief about their situation. I felt I helped them with a new skill.”

Social workers also work with outpatients as well. Anastasia Deeter is Texas Children’s Hospital Primary Care Practice clinical social worker, located on the Palm Center. It is the only hospital clinic that is off-campus, and with the Texas Children’s partnership with Baylor College of Medicine, this particular location also teaches learning physicians. It’s a residence clinic for continuity so that over 50 doctors at a time can learn about primary care.

“I’m in an incredibly unique clinic,” said Deeter. “It is the only primary care practice for the hospital, minus the complex care, which are very complex, medically fragile patients.”

Although social work at Texas Children’s has evolved drastically over the years, there is much more that they intend to do to continue providing the highest level of care for our patients.

“When I think about our future I think about all the growth that Texas Children’s has seen, and as we move into Austin, and as we acquire and build new buildings here in the medical center like Legacy Tower,” said Tietjens. “I feel like social work is going to be really at the forefront at looking at what do we need to continue to do for patients and families and what more could we do.”

Texas Children’s next expansion will be Legacy Tower, a new portion of the hospital that will house new operating rooms with one intraoperative MRI, as well as a new pediatric intensive care unit (ICU). The Legacy Tower doors will open May 22 and that same day Clark and the rest of the PCU will move to their new hospital home.

“For this particular unit what will be different in Legacy Tower is we’ll be called the transitional ICU. We’ll have the patients that stay long-term until they can go home,” said Clark. “I am excited. It’s a new building. It’s fabulous, everyone’s excited about it.”

Despite the hardships that the job entails like most, Texas Children’s social workers will continue to be an integral part when it comes to supporting patients and their families while they are in the hospital and after they have become discharged.

“I want people to recognize the vast scope of a social worker’s job,” said Tietjens. “That they really can support so many things for patients, their families, and really anyone that they encounter.”