Lately, I've been thinking about the common scenarios social workers encounter in the hospital setting. After some thought, I can't help but think that there is nothing a social worker does that can't be done by someone else. Here are a few scenarios:
-Anything that involves discharge planning (i.e. ordering DME, arranging SNFs, transporting patients, etc.): These can be done easily by discharge planners and arguably more efficiently by nurse case managers who unlike social workers are actually medically trained.
-5150s (mandatory 72 hour psychiatric holds): These people end up going to the local psych hospital, and the transfer there can once again be handled by discharge planners or nurse case managers.
-Uninsured patients: These people can be seen and given resources by financial counselors who do not need a social worker degree to get hired.
-Palliative/hospice patients: These individuals are usually evaluated by a hospice/palliative care nurse anyway, with social workers involved in the discharge planning process. When it comes to hospice/palliative care referrals, the agencies rarely send out social workers, choosing to send out nurses who can explain the medical aspects of care. Since the role of a hospital social worker when dealing with palliative/hospice patients is discharge planning, such referrals can just be made by discharge planners or nurse case managers.
-Abuse situations: EVERYONE that works in the hospital is a mandated reporter. Besides, it's practitioner that first witnessed that abuse that's supposed to phone in the report, with county social workers (or non-MSW case workers in some cases) taking care of the rest.
-Drug/alcohol users: Hospital social workers typically don't have the time to provide sufficient drug counseling, so they give resources to outside clinics. Pretty much any profession can do that.
-Depressed patients: Hospital social workers can be of use here. However, nurses have also taken on this role since they're with the patients most of the day.
-Death/end of life situations: Another area where social workers can be utilized. However, nurses and physicians tend to take the leading roles since they can explain what's happening medically, which is what patients and families want to know. I've lost track of the number of end-of-life conversation I've sat through where there was nothing I could do to contribute, as the nurses and physicians have already done my job for me. In other instanced where I've tried to lead end-of-life discussions, nurses jumped in and took over because I couldn't provide answer to the medical related questions the families had.
Perhaps this is why it seems as if social work is being taken over by other allied professions. Nurses and other allied fields feel that they can do social work, and in some cases they can. Unfortunately, I'm not sure what can be done about this. I suppose one can blame the scope of the social work field, which is encompassed by multiple professions. Until we find a way to make clearer delineations on what social workers do that other professions cannot, we'll have non-social workers taking over our duties.
You know what the saddest thing is? When I ask myself, "Why am I here?", the immediate answer that comes to mind is this: I'm cheap labor.