Introducing a social worker at Norfolk General Hospital

Megan Barber has been a social worker at Norfolk General Hospital since December 2021. She assesses the needs of patients and their families by listening to their stories and works to provide solutions and support. This ranges from advocating for them, providing emotional support, or connecting them to important hospital and community resources.

It’s National Social Work Month, and this year’s theme is “In Critical Demand – Social Work is Essential,” capturing the essential role social workers play in our community.

We spoke with Megan to learn more about her role and the impact she has on our patients and their families.

What is your role at the hospital?

Social Workers are dedicated to addressing the psychosocial needs of patients and families as part of the health-care team. My role in the hospital fluctuates based on the patient and families needs, and I play many roles within the hospital community. My main focus is to ensure patient centred care, which includes preserving dignity, ensuring patient and family understanding of the care being received, promoting autonomy, and consent. I strive to work from a strength-based approach.

On a day-to-day basis, I facilitate family meetings, assist with legal issues, complete cognitive and psychosocial assessments, and meet with patients who are receiving palliative care to ensure end of life needs are met. I also provide support and guidance to family members of the patients in the hospital. If a patient and their family are having difficulty within the hospital understanding their diagnosis, care, or general navigation of the healthcare system I will become involved. I regularly provide support to individuals who are struggling to manage their mental health and provide education on diagnosis and resources available to them.

Depending on the patient’s goals of care within the hospital, I connect patients with the resources to maintain or improve their quality of life upon discharge from the hospital. I also assist our discharge planner with complex discharges. Discharge planning involves discharge coordination, connection with resources, and developing a plan for discharge such as date, equipment needed, transportation, etc. The discharge planner and I work closely with the HCCSS and physicians to ensure safe and appropriate discharges.

How does your role help the patient?

The social work role helps the patient to feel seen and heard in a busy health care setting. I advocate for individualized care and support within the hospital setting as well as with external providers. The social work role can even help patients navigate family issues, for example; if a patient makes treatment decisions that are different from what their family wants I can assist to facilitate those difficult conversations.

What originally led you to social work?

Social Work has a complex history, and the profession has often played an oppressive role in its involvement in people’s lives. Over-surveillance populations and under-serviced folks alike have shaped views of the Social Work profession that has the potential to hinder the benefit that Social Work services intend to offer. As an Indigenous woman with my own personal experiences of challenges and hardships, I understand the historically oppressive role that social work has had. In my work, I wish to mend the relationship with social work for myself and make Social Work a positive and anti-oppressive intervention for others.

What do you look forward to the most when you come into work?

When I come into work, I greatly look forward to the diversity of each day. Every patient and their needs are unique. I continuously learn and expand my role as I examine each patient’s case and research available resources that can be utilized in improving patient care and quality of life.

What’s the most challenging part of the job?

The most challenging part of my job is when the resources needed to support a patient aren’t readily available or accessible. This is frequently a challenge to ensuring safe and appropriate discharges and to meet psychosocial needs. For example, affordable and available housing is certainly an issue across the board.

What can you say to people who are struggling with their mental health and are hesitant to seek help?

Mental Health issues and managing them can be really difficult and confusing. It can be a frightening experience to acknowledge you need might need extra support, and even more intimidating to seek support and treatment.

To add to this stress, seeking help also means leaving the familiar “life as you know it” behind, and uncomfortably opening yourself up to the world of self-exploration and healing that is uncertain and unfamiliar to you. It’s a tough journey, but taking care of yourself will always be worth it, and while you may feel like not everyone will understand, somebody will. You are worth looking after!

If you’re thinking about seeking help for mental health issues and don’t know where to start or what’s available, you can call Connex Ontario at 1-866-531-2600 for assistance with system navigation and information.

“You don’t have to tell everyone in your life that you need help, but it’s really important to tell someone!”