As Kids Go Home On Life Support, She’s Their Champion

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Social worker Jen Westerman helps families navigate the unknown and sometimes overwhelming world of taking their child home with a ventilator. She is a voice of calm and reason.

In between the tears and the fear, the worry and the tough decisions, Jen Westerman finds the light.

Her job isn’t easy. It’s intense. Westerman is a social worker on the home ventilator team at Riley Hospital for Children at IU Health.

She helps families navigate the doubt and questions that come with taking their child home on life support,

“It’s helping them prepare,” says Westerman, “helping families cope and find techniques to reduce stress.”

Westerman is one of seven people on the home vent team working together – from all angles – to get patients home and back to a thriving life.

“We’re like a consistent and familiar place for these patients who are going home,” she says.

Westerman smiles as she talks about her favorite parts of her job.

Watching the kids leave the hospital to go home – many after being at Riley for months, many going home for the first time ever.

Seeing the kids come back to outpatient clinic, no longer needing a ventilator.

Getting to know the patients and families so well. After all, in her unit, they are there for months, sometimes more than a year.

“I love being able to follow them for a long continuum,” she says.


Westerman grew up in Fort Wayne, an athlete, playing basketball, volleyball and softball. Her senior year of high school, she did a rotation at a hospital, working on different units for a day.

She watched a surgery. She fell in love with medicine.

She went to Indiana University in Bloomington and majored in psychology and sociology.  

When Westerman came to IUPUI to get her master’s in social work, she learned about medical social work and thought that would be a great tie between her two loves.

During an internship at Riley her second year of grad school, it confirmed that hospital work was her thing.

She came to Riley full time in 2010, first on the night shift in the emergency department. When she moved to days, she rotated among different departments. In 2013, she took on her current role on the home vent team.

Westerman is married to Jory and the couple has two children, Claire, 5, and Aiden, 2.

-- By Dana Benbow, Senior Journalist at IU Health.

   Reach Benbow via email or on Twitter @danabenbow.

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