UC Irvine Medical Center social workers play vital role in providing best possible care

Help relieve patient, family stress of hospital stay

March 15, 2016

A hospital stay can be a stressful experience for patients and their families. In honor of National Social Workers Month, UCI Health  recognizes the vital role social workers play in providing the best possible patient care and family support during a hospital stay, as well as connecting them to community resources upon discharge. 

The more than two dozen clinical social workers at UC Irvine Medical Center have attained a Master of Social Work degree, and offer frontline services such as individual and family counseling, leading support group discussions, determining appropriate healthcare services and developing patient at-home care plans. 

The experiences of the following social workers reflect just some of the daily acts of kindness and professionalism among those who work closely with patients and their families. From giving special attention to a young child during a family meeting, to starting a support group that is the first of its kind in Orange County, to counseling a pregnant young wife during her husband’s illness and death, these examples highlight how our clinical social workers make an immediate, positive impact in the lives of patients and their families. 

Jaime Fernandez 

During a family meeting to discuss sensitive care and end-of-life issues, Fernandez noticed a young child becoming increasingly restless and agitated. He had not expected the parent to bring the child, due to the nature of the difficult issues to be discussed, but wanted to help him avoid further emotional distress. 

“By kneeling down to the child’s level and using a soft and soothing tone of voice, he was agreeable to stepping outside of the room, and with his mother’s permission, we did so,” Fernandez said. “Once outside I asked the child to draw pictures of his family, which seemed to please him. Art can be a great way of assessing a child’s emotions and thoughts in a particular moment as well as assessing the child’s relations with his or her family.” 

Julie Stefan 

Stefan noticed that after discharge, parents of pediatric burn patients were still having a hard time adjusting to their child’s injury. Realizing that one-third of the patients in the UCI Health Regional Burn Center burn patients are children, she started a support group for parents.

“Burn wounds are usually a longer healing process,” Stefan explained. “Depending on the particular injury and where it is on the body, the child may have scars for a lifetime. Parents need to know how to help their child adjust as they grow up. These parents now have the opportunity to attend quarterly meetings, where they can talk about common concerns, share stories and feelings, and learn coping strategies from each other.” 

Stephanie Warner  The prognosis for the young man was not good. Married less than a year, his pregnant wife was told that MRI scans showed little brain activity. Warner wanted to make sure the woman understood the critical nature of her husband’s condition. Warner was able to help the wife make decisions that honored the husband’s wishes and provided a connection between him and their unborn child. In addition, the woman helped save the lives of others by consenting to organ donation.

“You don’t get to freeze. You don’t get to not do something, because it’s not your trauma, it’s theirs. You walk in, and it’s your job,” Warner said. “I knew I was doing good work for her, which helped it to be not so traumatic for me. It’s more traumatic when I’m not able to help.”

UCI Health comprises the clinical, medical education and research enterprises of the University of California, Irvine. Patients can access UCI Health at physician offices throughout Orange County and at its main campus, UC Irvine Medical Center in Orange, Calif., a 411-bed acute care hospital that provides tertiary and quaternary care, ambulatory and specialty medical clinics, behavioral health and rehabilitation. U.S. News & World Report has listed it among America’s Best Hospitals for 15 consecutive years. UC Irvine Medical Center features Orange County’s only National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive cancer center, high-risk perinatal/neonatal program, Level I trauma center and Level II pediatric trauma center, and is the primary teaching hospital for UC Irvine School of Medicine. UCI Health serves a region of more than 3 million people in Orange County, western Riverside County and southeast Los Angeles County. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

About the University of California, Irvine: Currently celebrating its 50th anniversary, UCI is the youngest member of the prestigious Association of American Universities. The campus has produced three Nobel laureates and is known for its academic achievement, premier research, innovation and anteater mascot. Led by Chancellor Howard Gillman, UCI has more than 30,000 students and offers 192 degree programs. It’s located in one of the world’s safest and most economically vibrant communities and is Orange County’s second-largest employer, contributing $4.8 billion annually to the local economy. For more on UCI, visit www.uci.edu.