Social work team focuses on helping families and each other




Nurse case managers and social workers came together earlier this month to celebrate their vocation and to recharge before going into battle against COVID-19.

By Maureen Gilmer, IU Health senior journalist,

It was the calm before the storm. A pause. A time of reflection.

"Happy Social Work Month" pitch in

On this day, a spot of tea, a homemade cookie or piece of cake and an hour of fellowship were just what the doctor ordered for the integrated care management team at Riley Hospital for Children at IU Health.

Just before restrictions on meetings went into effect at Riley earlier this month in response to the COVID-19 virus, a lovely little tea took place in a conference room for the social workers and nurse case managers who support Riley patients and families.

The afternoon tea was a chance to celebrate social work month, but it also turned out to be an opportunity to announce that it would be the last time the staff could gather in person, at least until the COVID-19 crisis ends.

Jenny smiles with a harp

Katie Harris and Traci Kaufman, social work team leads, organized the tea. Andrew Harner, clinical manager for social work, made a cake. And a special guest, music therapist Jenny Kaufman, played the harp. Others contributed decorations and other sweet treats.

“It was so beautiful,” Harris said. “Jenny played the harp and our team got to take an hour out of their day to enjoy that.”

There are approximately 18 RN case managers and 25 social workers who navigate challenges for Riley families on the inpatient side. It’s not an easy job in the best of times, but having a chance to take a breath now is even more important.

“Work is always stressful, but this is a whole new layer of stress,” Harris said, adding that the team supports families through financial hardships, illness and loss. It takes a toll.

Still, she said, “Both sides of our team have the attitude that whatever we need to do to get through this we’re going to do that. Giving them this hour in the day, a moment to pause is just so important. Our team members are continuing to work every day and having to figure things out, to be here for our patients and our families,” Harris said. “With all the uncertainty and anxiety, they are needing that support from our team more than ever.”

Social work team gathers together

Just as the team is providing that steady calm, they lean on each other to get through.

“Everybody feels the weight of it," said Michelle Crump, RN case manager team lead. “And they all want to do whatever they can, not only for each other, but for the families.”

That attitude is inspiring, she said.

“I tend to be a person who doesn’t typically get anxious, but I’ve never been through anything like this. This is unprecedented for any of us. For me, there’s definitely a level of anxiety. I want to stay healthy because I want to take care of my patients and my family.”

Harner said his team, like others in the hospital is adapting to the challenges presented by COVID-19, but the focus continues to be on patients and families.

“Many people say to social workers, ‘I would never be able to do your job.’ The truth is that it takes years of training, hands-on experience and licensure through the state to be able to pull off what our Riley social workers do every day.”

The rewards are more than just a tea, a lunch or an occasional mention during social work month, he said.

“They are renewed by the fact that every day they make a significant impact on a child’s life. I am impressed and amazed everyday by my team’s dedication, perseverance and accomplishments.”