“There is no greater joy nor greater reward than to make a fundamental difference in someone’s life”
This quote by Mary Rose McGeady captures the essence of a social worker’s job description in a nutshell. Social workers have been involved in healthcare since 1905, and the role of the social worker in health care, especially memory care, has evolved by leaps and bounds to the unique role that the Dolan Memory Care Homes social workers embody today. The Dolan social workers embrace the stereotypical expectations in the Dolan homes: providing counseling, making referrals, facilitating support groups, and advocating for clients. However, the role of the Dolan social worker extends far beyond these responsibilities in providing the best possible care for Dolan residents.
Not only is each social worker licensed by the Missouri to practice social work, they are all qualified nursing home assessors, meaning they are equipped and certified to competently assess potential residents in the community. When visiting individuals to determine best fit for Dolan, the social workers observe him/her in their baseline environment. Using their clinical experience, a strengths-based perspective and their assessor certification, the social workers critically think to match the individual’s strengths and personality to a Dolan home. Matching the best fit supports the future resident to have their bio/psycho/social/emotional needs met and ensures best quality of life.
Upon moving into a Dolan home, the social worker has already built a foundational relationship with the resident and family, an opportunity not usually available due to the large caseloads most healthcare social workers manage. Through this partnership, the care team has already fostered a deep understanding of the resident’s needs and life story. The social worker and nurse manager collaborate to effectively convey this information to Dolan Care Partners-this close interdisciplinary relationship serves as a solid foundation of support to resident and staff. The family also benefits from ongoing education and routine quality assurance checks from their assigned social worker.
One such occasion when a routine check-in met the various needs of a family came when one social worker called a woman who had recently moved her husband of 50 years into Dolan.
Previously, the wife had been caring for him in their own home. Not only was she grappling with extreme feelings of grief and guilt, she wondered what he did all day and if he was bring engaged in activities. Her social worker was able to provide her with pictures and information about the types of engagement her husband was receiving and addressed other concerns for her. Additionally, because they had a solid foundation of rapport, the social worker was able to acknowledge and validate the feelings of loneliness the wife was experiencing after living alone for the first time. This proactive communication prevented a burnt out caregiver from “filling in the blanks” of her questions about her husband’s wellbeing and offered much needed peace of mind.
The social worker’s support of the resident and the entire interdisciplinary care team continues well into the resident’s care all the way through end of life at Dolan. Social workers facilitate and enhance individualized service plan meetings (ISP’s), infusing a strengths-based perspective and prioritizing the resident’s psycho/social/emotional needs into these meetings and documents. Supplementing ISP’s with social work input continues to foster the relationship between the family and care team and ensures these documents are balanced with both a clinical and person-centered perspective.
Additionally, the Dolan social work team facilitates constant and ongoing training for our Care Partners. Being assigned to a small group of homes means each social worker is able to build relationships with not only residents and families but the nurse managers and Care Partners. Due to this intimate relationship-building with care staff, they are deeply aware of opportunities for training, they can highlight staff who show leadership and effectively lead trainings for learning circles, classroom in-services and mentorships. These staff/social work relationships also cultivate a sense of trust, leading many Dolan staff members to turn to their social worker in times of personal need for resources or guidance.
Because each social worker is licensed, all three are clinically trained to provide therapeutic services. These skills translate to supporting residents adjusting to a new environment or who are experiencing difficult emotions at any time throughout their stay at Dolan. These therapeutic sessions also apply to supporting grieving families and other Dolan staff, even offering house-specific memorial services for grieving and bereavement for staff who take on their Dolan residents as family. Because Dolan residents age in place, social workers are able provide grief and bereavement services to families (whom they’ve supported for years) sitting bedside with a resident near end of life.
Many of the unique programs that set Dolan apart are implemented and maintained by the Dolan social workers. They effectively collaborate to incorporate highly beneficial and specialized features into our residents’ lives: Cognitive Stimulation Therapy, Music and Memory, aromatherapy, pet therapy, high cognition-specific activities, 1:1 engagement, New Family Meetings, and so much more. Many of these programs have arisen out of close partnerships the social workers maintain with local community stakeholders, i.e. Maturity and Its Muse, Saint Louis University Geriatric Education Center and more.
Another community collaborations Dolan has as a result of our social workers is our robust student intern program. The benefits of intergenerational exposure cannot be understated in memory care and it is thanks to the Dolan social workers, most notably Jan McGillick, that we are able to infuse so much involvement from student interns of local universities into the daily lives of Dolan residents. Students come from programs including social work, public health, geriatric care, nursing, educational studies, and more.
Just as the Dolan model is unique and forward-thinking, so too is the role the Dolan social worker embodies. The passion, empathy and love displayed by each social worker play a crucial role in enhancing the quality of life offered to each resident. By merging the social work values with the distinctive features of each Dolan home and program, residents, families and staff all benefit from what each social worker has to offer.