We recently sat down with Michaela Carlson, LSW, Director of Social Services at Hannah Duston Healthcare Center, to talk about the role of the Social Worker in the skilled nursing setting and how that role has become even more important in these last few years.
What got you interested in social work?
Ever since I was a child, I’ve always liked helping people. I’ve always felt at home with the elderly – they have such wisdom to share.
Where did you start? Have you always worked in a Skilled Nursing Facility?
When I was 17-18, I worked at an assisted living facility as a server in the dining room. I really liked interacting with the elderly population. After college, I worked with teenage autistic children at a hospital. I also worked in a dual diagnosis psychiatric hospital with detox patients. Then I worked at a skilled nursing facility in Lowell, MA and got my license. After that job, I was hired at Hannah Duston Healthcare Center and I have been there for 10 years – first as a Social Worker, and more recently, promoted to the Director of Social Services.
What do people need to know when they or a loved one are admitted to a skilled nursing facility?
Within a week after being admitted, they can expect to have a meeting with social work, nurses, etc. – an interdisciplinary team meeting to establish goals for the time they are there, and to plan ahead for discharge. Meetings can happen upon request, and often happen frequently. We are always available if they have questions.
Do you see the role of the Social Worker to be even more important in these times of COVID?
The pandemic made it a real challenge for us to get to know the families, and for the families to establish trust with the caregivers at the facility. We bridge the gap between family and resident, and when visitation was closed, that trust was harder to establish via phone call / Zoom.
We are so happy to have family visitation back, now that the COVID restrictions have relaxed, because now we can establish relationships and trust with the families in those face-to-face family meetings. Those family meetings are so important, and we realized when visitation was closed, just how important they are. We were following state rules in order to keep the residents safe, but ‘it was very emotional’ for us when family members could not visit their loved ones. Some people in hospice – we had to be the voice for them in relaying messages to the family. When visitation opened back up, we were so happy that families could visit again and we could establish that one-on-one relationship. So now the family can get to know the team members who are caring for their loved one!
What is most rewarding for you?
Educating and assisting. When someone is admitted to a skilled nursing facility, there is so much to navigate – insurances and coverage, treatments, planning for discharge. We guide them towards the best route to take, and help them through their time at the facility – whether it be a short-term stay to recover from a surgery or illness, or a long term placement as a resident.
Do you have any favorite stories to share?
You realize that every face has a story. It’s a different vibe here – I have known some people for 8 years! I have met so many wonderful people through the years and my personal life experiences have also shaped those relationships. I lost my Mom to brain cancer, and when I had a resident with the same kind of cancer I was able to relate in a much more personal way with the resident as well as with their family. They could see that my compassion and understanding were genuine. My Mom continues to influence me and helps me bring compassion and empathy to every encounter I have with the residents and their families, and doing so honors my Mom at the same time.
What do you like most about working for Whittier?
Whittier Health Network is an excellent company to work for. You always get the answers and the help you need – it has a very good support system. As a family-owned company, they are understanding and supportive of your personal needs when it comes to your own family. They understand that work is not everything; that family needs sometimes come first. The Hannah Duston team is composed of people who genuinely care about the residents. I love being part of a team that often defies the odds and rehabilitates sick people, enabling them to get back to their homes and into their communities after a rehab short term stay, when the probability was for them to live at the nursing home for long term care.