A new team-based approach to social work at Providence is helping to better meet patient needs and provide workload support for social workers.

This new model of social work support is made possible by the addition of a new Social Work Assistant role at Providence. Funding for two of these positions was secured after a successful six-month pilot in 2022, and an additional two positions are currently being piloted.

Betty Ferguson is a Social Work Assistant on the inpatient mental health units at St. Paul’s Hospital. She’s been with the team since last summer.

“It adds an extra layer to patient care,” Betty says of her position. “The social workers are so busy and they work incredibly hard, so this role is kind of the cherry on top of everything.”

“I want to provide support”

Betty works closely with the mental health social workers to meet the needs of patients. Much of her time is spent helping patients apply for benefits when they aren’t able to do so independently and don’t have assistance from family or friends. She often helps patients obtain the personal ID required to apply for such benefits.

Social Work Assistants like Betty also help smooth the discharge process by picking up necessities – such as groceries or prescriptions – escorting patients to the bank so they have funds to cover expenses, and facilitating visits to long-term care or assisted living homes.

“I want to provide support and help to people during times of extreme vulnerability,” Betty says. “This role also allows me to build interpersonal relationships with patients. Everything that I learn or discuss with patients is always communicated to the unit social worker which ultimately adds to stronger person-centred care.”

A more holistic experience

For mental health social worker Kelsey Rogers, Betty has quickly become an indispensable member of the team.

“There are a lot of needs on the mental health unit and lots of things that are difficult for people to accomplish while they’re in hospital,” Kelsey explains.

Prior to Betty’s arrival, a lot of outreach work wasn’t happening because the social workers didn’t have capacity to assist patients with things like banking, ID replacement, and securing social supports and services. Patients were sometimes discharged without income, housing, or medical coverage in place.

“There’s lots of things that aren’t seen as barriers to discharge, but that help the patient experience significantly,” Kelsey says. “When patients have their concerns taken seriously and acted on within a timely basis it creates a more holistic experience.”

Positive feedback

Teresa Robitaille, Professional Practice Lead, Social Work, says the introduction of the Social Work Assistant role was motivated by a desire to better meet the fundamental needs of patients and address concerns around staff morale and retention. So far, she’s seeing a positive impact.

“During the pilot last year, we recognized the significant value of this additional resource. Patients and families shared heart-warming stories of positive outcomes made possible by a Social Work Assistant,” Teresa says. “We also heard very positive feedback from our frontline social workers, who have reported greater job satisfaction now that they’re able to provide more comprehensive support to patients.”

In addition to Betty’s position in mental health, there are also Social Work Assistants with the renal program, as well as inpatient acute units at St Pa​ul’s Hospital, Mount Saint Joseph Hospital, and Holy Family Hospital Rehabilitation.

March is Social Work Month in Canada and March 19-25 is Social Work Week in BC. It’s a time to celebrate the accomplishments of social workers and highlight their role in supporting health, mental health and well-being across complex systems and settings.​