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Why we need social workers-now more than ever before

Updated: Mar 4

March is national social work month. Social workers are underpaid, overworked, overeducated and still in high demand. They are amazing people that advocate for patients and clients through the healthcare spectrum. For the pay they receive, most are struggling to pay off extensive student loans.

What does a social worker actually do? In a hospital or skilled nursing and rehab they advocate for a safe discharge of the patient or resident and navigate Medicare and multitude of other insurance plans. They ensure that the patient is compliant with the discharge plan and that they have the tools in place to go home safely.

This sounds pretty basic. I assure you, it’s definitely not.

Any job that requires depending on people, in-house and outside of your organization, to get your job done is frustrating at the very least. Social workers deserve sainthood for what they go through for their patients on a daily basis.

Why is this job in such high demand? And why is it going to be more and more as time goes by?

Let’s face it, our population is getting older and less healthy year after year. With the largest surge of baby boomers turning 65 this year, we’re seeing more and more people hospitalized and less and less insurance coverage.

Medicare sets the standards for insurances, and Medicare doesn’t want to pay for people to stay in the hospital. If they don’t have an immediate medical need, insurance will kick them off, so the social worker has to navigate getting a person, who might not be safe to go home, a new situation that a) they are compliant with and b) they can afford. This might include your skilled nursing and rehab center, which is also covered by insurance, but only for so long. Every state is different but if the person qualifies for Medicaid, they might be able to stay in a long term care nursing facility, but only certain ones. These are all decisions hospital social workers need to address with their patients and patients’ families.

Of course there is a lot of paperwork and red tape that goes into any of these options and the social worker has to navigate all of that as well, including ordering durable medical equipment that the patient may need at home or in assisted living or personal care. They also have to navigate getting all appropriate documents signed by doctors or nurse practitioners in order to send the appropriate orders to the appropriate parties.

Another reason that social workers are in high demand is because the hospitals and skilled nursing facilities need them to manage the discharge plan so that they can keep their businesses afloat. I know, it always comes back to money, so why aren’t they paid more? This baffles me.

Here in America we don’t have socialized medicine and; thus, every hospital, doctor, rehab, etc., is a business that needs to make a profit. If insurance doesn’t pay for a person to stay in a bed, the hospital needs to open up the bed for someone who has insurance to pay. We all know that when things aren’t covered by insurance, there is less chance that it will get paid. Obviously hospitals and SNFs are focused on insurance paid beds being filled and that’s the big difference.

There is also a shortage of hospital beds available because of the healthcare staffing shortage as a whole. Depending on your area, hospital beds need to be opened quickly to make way for new patients to be seen. For example, I was in a hospital emergency room earlier this week with my sister who had a health concern. She was literally treated in the waiting room and sat there in a wheelchair, with an IV, waiting for a bed to open up with several other people.

Social work is a 24-hour job and it’s ever changing. Keep in mind that the average case-load for a social worker in general is 25–50 patients. Sometimes many of these patients or clients need assistance at the same time and; therefore, the social worker must be very organized and able to prioritize.

While I’m sure there’s more I could address about social workers and the great work that they do, my purpose of this post is just to honor them. So in your daily interactions, be kind to your social workers. They really are the lifeline of the healthcare system. They are the worker bees who keep the flow of the hive.

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