The stress and anxiety of illness can turn a person’s world upside down. From tests and procedures to waiting for results and wondering what comes next, the journey that lies ahead can be daunting. Helene Jones, Manager of the Social Services Department at the McGill University Health Centre (MUHC), feels privileged to help patients focus on getting better. She leads a team of social workers who help patients deal with difficult situations so they can focus on getting well.

“Social workers are an instrumental part of supporting families throughout their care. They’re there to help make sure that the hospital experience is as positive as possible,” says Jones.

Being diagnosed with a life-threatening illness is scary and the impact on each patient’s life is significant. For those who are disadvantaged, illness amplifies already difficult situations.

“The Social Services Department at the MUHC is made up of 70 social workers
who are deployed to every part of the hospital.”

“Patients often can’t afford basic items like a healthy meal, or childcare, or the cost of a taxi to get to an urgent appointment. When you’re worried about taking care of everyone else or surviving just one more day, it can feel like an insurmountable barrier to get the help you need and to get well,” says Jones.

For patients who can’t afford life’s basic necessities, the Social Services Department is there to assist. Every year, it helps thousands of the MUHC’s patients access resources so they can focus on their own health.

“We see so many patients who are really struggling each and every day, and our goal is to help them get better,” says Jones. “What we do takes the stress out of health care.”

The Social Services Department at the MUHC is made up of 70 social workers who are deployed to every part of the hospital. They are present in the ER and ICU, with the trauma team and obstetrics, in outpatient clinics and more. Many people don’t realize that social workers are an integral part of every health care team and are available upon request across the hospital.

“In the height of the pandemic, we had to change our service almost on a daily basis to make sure that we were responding to the immediate needs of
our patients.”
Helene Jones

Counselling is another service offered by the Social Services Department. The social workers provide resources and a listening ear. They help patients cope with illness and uncertainty, and support families with loved ones going through difficult health challenges such as risky surgeries or palliative care.

Diana D’Addio, Clinical Social Worker at the MUHC, has been part of the Social Services Department for 17 years. She is passionate about helping individuals and families cope with some of life’s most difficult situations.

“Social workers are known as the problem solvers of the hospital. Whether there’s an issue or a concern, we will be involved, and we work alongside the medical team to find a solution,” says D’Addio.

“Our mission was to try to be there for every single patient
in the way that they needed.”
– Diana D’Addio

At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Jones, D’Addio and their teams were faced with greater challenges than ever before. Not only was the situation changing daily, but more patients sought help as workplaces, schools, daycares and community centres shut down.

Diana D’Addio - Social workers personalize the health care journey

Diana D’Addio is a 17-year veteran of the MUHC and a valued member of the Social Services Department

“We had to change our service almost on a daily basis to make sure that we were responding to the immediate needs of our patients,” says Jones.

Despite the limitations of COVID-19 protocols, the MUHC’s social workers adapted. For example, they used tablets and video calling software to connect hospitalized patients—who were not allowed visitors—to speak to their loved ones at home.

“Our mission was to try to be there for every single patient in the way that they needed,” says D’Addio. “It was a challenge, but we did our best to help every single patient that we could.”

With so many patients requesting help, particularly during the pandemic, the Social Services Department benefits greatly from donations. Donor support helps the team ensure they can provide relief to everyone who needs it.

“Every donation goes to helping families. We really rely on them,” says Jones.

Social workers are an essential resource for patients in times of crisis. Regardless of their situation, any patient or their family can request the support of the Social Services Department. In addition to the support detailed above, social workers can assist with transitions back home, provide referrals to community agencies and much more.

“If you’re having difficulty coping, you don’t have to go through it alone,” says D’Addio.

The MUHC Foundation is proud to support the work of the Social Services Department of the MUHC as part of its Dream Big campaign to change the course of lives and medicine. To learn more and to make a donation, visit: https://muhcfoundation.com/dream-big/other-priorities/social-service-department/