Hospital social workers help patients and loved ones through difficult medical situations and facilitate communication with care teams.
Social workers play a pivotal role at UCLA Health, helping patients and loved ones navigate challenging medical situations. They advocate for patient rights; provide education about conditions, treatments and available community services; conduct mental health assessments and counseling and provide other valuable services.
“Clinical social workers take the lead in supporting vulnerable populations — including patients with housing insecurity — as they return to the community from the hospital setting,” explains Mary Noli Pilkington, director, UCLA Department of Care Coordination and Clinical Social Work. Social workers connect individuals and families to community programs that stabilize, support and improve social factors that contribute to better health.
In addition, social workers lead programs to support resiliency and renewal in caregivers and health care professionals so they can continue to meet the challenges of providing outstanding patient care.
The social work department also participates in the health system’s academic mission by offering an MSW internship program, providing education and training for masters- level social work students from three major Los Angeles area universities.
The two individuals spotlighted below exemplify how social workers make differences in patients’ lives.
Blair Butler, MSW, is a social worker in the pediatric liver transplant program at UCLA Mattel Children’s Hospital. “I conduct psychological and social assessments of everyone in the immediate family to gauge how they’re coping with this life-changing situation,” says Butler. “I work with Child Life specialists to help children deal with anxiety and stress and facilitate conversations between parents and medical teams. I also assess how the family is doing after the patient returns home.”
Butler has always felt a calling to help others. “My best moments are when I see the faces of parents after their child has a successful transplant,” she says. “But some kids pass away while waiting for a liver or from other complications. When this happens, I consider it a privilege to be able to help parents through the grief and healing process.”
At Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, Codie Lieto, LCSW, provides advance care planning and palliative care services for adults with end-stage heart failure. “A patient may have to make difficult medical decisions,” says Lieto. “I assess patients’ understanding of their illnesses and proposed treatments, discuss care goals and values, and help them complete advance health care directives.”
These conversations with patients are difficult, but vital, says Lieto. “I try to make the situation easier for everyone,” she says. “Family members say that knowing their loved one’s preferences takes the burden off of them when a patient’s health declines.”
Both Lieto and Butler say the ability to help others in crisis is extremely gratifying. “Social workers wear a lot of hats,” says Butler. “We’re here to provide support to both patients and care teams.”