Social workers are valued resources at Des Moines Health Center

  By Pat King, Wesley Homes Des Moines resident Though social work with children is a well-known profession, there is another area of social work that is just as rewarding but is sometimes overlooked: working with older adults. Social workers Rita Lambert, MSW, LICSW; Sally Ferguson, BSW; and Maureen Brierley, MSW are prized members of the care team at Wesley Homes Des Moines Health Center. Rita Lambert, Sally Ferguson and Maureen Brierley Coming from a big Catholic family, Rita Lambert, Director of Social Services and Assisted Living, knew for certain what she wanted to be when she grew up: someone who helped people. She could have been a teacher, a nurse or a doctor, but no one gets involved in the lives of others the way a social worker does. The work agrees with her. Though she is old enough to retire and her hair has turned from brown to chic white, Rita’s face is smooth and fresh. She credits her active life at the Health Center. When Rita started as a social worker 35 years ago, the work was not as complex as it is today. “Today, people are sicker; they are discharged by a hospital to the Health Center with many more health and family complications,” said Rita. “Today, Medicare has dozens of different forms. Helping patients get discharged from the Health Center means finding safe places for themto live; getting her in the right area for aid; acquiring equipment; and getting authorization, oxygen, an exercise plan and family and community help.” In addition to explaining Medicare regulations to busy doctors or giving details of hospice care to an overwhelmed spouse, Sally often interacts with resident issues. On one day, she may be an advocate for a family with limited funding. On the same day, she may perform a detailed search for just the right room for a resident. Sally has up to 15 patient discharges a week. For each one, she makes sure their needs are met, including physical therapist instructions, equipment, crutches and living arrangements. Maureen works with the long-term care residents. She evaluates the kind of mental and health support that is needed. She also helps families look at the overall situation, such as insurance and the Health Center’s programs. She may sit with a concerned spouse and family who have with no idea of what to do or where to begin. Music has become an important means for Maureen to help address a resident’s needs. She understands the role of the Music and Memory program in a non-responsive resident and feels like a proud parent when she sees music light up a patient’s face. At the Health Center, Rita, Sally and Maureen also bring laughter. They sometimes have patients who will not follow doctor’s orders, exercise or take their meds.  The social workers explain and cajole and do it with humor. Maureen explains the fluid life of a social worker. “You might have a plan, but some days you just have to leave it behind, pick up and be willing to change directions.”