How Social Workers Support Patients and Families

Published on in CHOP News

Group of CHOP Employees Having a child diagnosed with a heart condition can be emotionally, physically and financially draining, and the impact on the patient and family can be overwhelming at times. At Children's Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), social workers provide support and guidance to patients and families.

We sat down with team members including Charisse Rhone, Lucia Figueroa, Melissa Greberman, Damaris Mason, Kealey Johnson, Gino Poliziani, and Lynn Callaway to learn more about their roles with CHOP's Cardiac Center.

Q. What is the primary patient population you serve?

A. We see cardiac families in both inpatient and outpatient settings. If a condition is diagnosed in utero, we start meeting with expectant parents during gestation, and we support them throughout their prenatal care. When patients are first diagnosed, we know their families are very shocked. While we can’t always take away their sadness, we can help take away their fears.

We continue to support families after the child is born and through their journey with the Cardiac Center Inpatient Units. Our social work team connects with the family and supports them while they’re here at the hospital and as they transition to home. Whether a patient is here a week or a year, we’re here to help them and their family. 

Social workers also support families receiving outpatient care. We see and support children, teens and their families at all our CHOP specialty care network locations.

Group of CHOP Employees Q. What are some of the ways you provide support for patients and their families?

A. The needs of every patient and family are different, so we help people in many ways. For families coming in for surgery, we do a lot of prep work so they know what to expect logistically and emotionally.

We help with:

  • Transportation. For many families getting to and from outpatient appointments can be a challenge. We help connect them to resources.
  • Housing. Families who have a child living at the hospital — long-term or just for a few days – often need help finding a place to stay nearby. We connect families with affordable housing options to meet their needs.
  • Transition to home. Children who have been hospitalized for an extended period often face challenges and uncertainty as they bring their child home and prepare to care for the child at home. We help families by making sure they have everything they need such as home care help, medical supplies and devices, as well as basic supplies like diapers and a crib.
  • Follow-up care. Our job doesn't end when patients leave the hospital. We continue to support families by providing follow-up care and monitoring for the family – not just the patient. It can be stressful caring for a healing child while also juggling work, other children and additional responsibilities. We can serve as a sounding board and connect families to additional services as needed.
  • Insurance. We help families interpret their insurance plans, navigate benefits, and advocate on their behalf for needed medications, materials or services. For families struggling financially — and who meet certain qualifications — we can connect them with resources and agencies that may be able to help.

Overall, we strive to be a constant in our family’s lives — their point of contact to guide them and support them at every step of their child's journey.

Q. How do you work with other team members at the Cardiac Center?

A. We work collaboratively with other groups at the hospital to provide care for families.

For example, we partner with psychology and child life to organize fun activities, such as arts and crafts for patients to reduce stress. Coping with a cardiac condition can be stressful – and can impact the whole family, so we also look for opportunities to help families connect with one another. When patients are doing well and families want to “give back,” we also help organize opportunities for them to support other patients and families at the hospital.

The social work team also works closely with the medical team to help ensure that families truly understand what the medical team is saying and can clarify any misunderstandings. We can help communicate any issues with the medical team. This is especially important for our many families who don’t speak English. It’s hard enough to deal with a chronic illness; we work to connect families with interpreters to support better communication.

Group of CHOP Employees Q. What is your favorite part of your job?

A. We love seeing our patients grow up. Especially for the babies we've seen, we love it when they come back when they’re older. We recently had a patient who was born prematurely and could fit in the palm of my hand when she was born — and now she’s one! When the kids recognize us and smile, it just melts our hearts.

When a child has been an inpatient and is discharged, it’s great to see them head home — you can see how appreciative they and their families are.

Another amazing thing is when we see families find joy during their journey. Parents have a lot of concerns when their kid has a cardiac condition, so seeing them get excited over milestones or everyday accomplishments of the kids is so rewarding.

Q. What would you want families and patients to know about your job?

A. Sometimes, families have a misconception when they hear we're social workers. They think we're there because we think there’s a problem with them as caregivers. Unfortunately, there are some sad cases of abuse or neglect, but in most cases we’re here to support children and families with what they need.

In fact, at CHOP, all families who have a child diagnosed with a heart condition, will be assigned a social worker. Our true job is to support families and be their advocates.

We also want families to know that we remember you and are always thinking of you!


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