A guiding compass: Social Work program having big impact on families who need help navigating resources
By Stefanie Kieft, Intern, Communications & Public Affairs
Navigating the health-care system can be a daunting task. Wading through a maze of appointments, and clinic visits and hospital stays can be an exhausting and complicated journey for patients and families. In the midst of dealing with the immediate, often traumatic, situations that many families face at the hospital, finding resources to help them with the financial stress related to their medical care can get overlooked.
“As a physician caring for children and families, we often identify concerns beyond an individual's health care needs. We hear from families about housing, legal, financial and social concerns,” says Dr. Julia Orkin, Medical Director in Complex Care and Staff Physician at SickKids. “We are sometimes constricted by our busy days and find that although we desire to complete the appropriate forms or spend the time to delve deep into funding issues with families, we don't have the time. Beyond that, we don't necessarily have the expertise and knowledge to even know how and who to refer to, what forms should be filled out and what the criteria are to qualify for the benefits are out there.”
Here to help navigate the murky waters is Family Resource Coordinator, Giulia De Lorenzis. As part of the Social Work department, De Lorenzis manages the Resource Navigation Program (RNP) at SickKids, designed to improve equal access to resources for all patients and families at the hospital and to offer support and alleviate stress through this process. With support from law and social work students, the program helps families complete forms and gather documentation to apply for funding and benefits from a wide variety of external sources such as the Trillium Drug Program (TDP), Employment Insurance, and Assistance for Children with Severe Disabilities (ACSD). The program is based on the strengths perspective that parents are capable of navigating challenging systems once they have the knowledge and skills.
The Resource Navigation Program was created in 2014 as a means to centralize the way that patients receive assistance in locating and accessing resources.
“Prior to the Resource Navigation Program, applying for programs was left to individual social workers with varying levels of comfort, experience and success,” says Sonia Lucchetta, Social Worker, Oncology. “With the development of the RNP, a small and dedicated group of individuals are now able to develop the expertise necessary to successfully complete applications and effectively advocate for families and for change. This is a big win for both families and staff.”
In the three years since its inception, the program has seen a dramatic increase in the number of families accessing its services. What started as a trickle in 2015 with 280 visits quickly became a steady stream as the numbers jumped to over 800 visits in 2016. There have already been 200 visits since Jan. 1 of this year. This success is attributed to an increase in awareness from hospital-wide poster campaigns, presentations and the use of referral cards.
“The main reason that I developed the referral card is because a lot of families, especially inpatient families, would come to the program and tell us that their doctor or nurse told them to come to us. However, by the time they get down to us they had been through so much stress that they didn’t remember what they were there to apply for,” says De Lorenzis. “With the referral card we know exactly what to help them with.”
The referral card lists a number of programs and charities and allows clinicians to check off the box that applies to the family, and send them down to the Family Centre where the RNP team is located. In other cases, patients and families simply see a poster or digital sign at the hospital and make their way on their own to the Centre. Once the family arrives, the RNP team conducts a financial assessment and discussion of the child’s diagnosis. For some financial support programs, a medical form needs to be completed by a clinician as part of the application. Part of the program is also letting families know what documentation is necessary for each funding application, and making sure they have all their identifying documents. The program is not designed to address short-term funding needs, but assists families to apply for longer-term funding required for ongoing medical care.
Above all, the RNP helps connect families to much needed financial resources. Assistance from programs like the TDP or ACSD can make a huge difference in a child and parent’s lives. The program’s goal is to support and empower families to be able to access resources that support them to care for their children and families.
Selwyn Ramlal is one of many families who have benefitted from the program and can attest to its impact. Ramlal comments that De Lorenzis and the RNP team have “made my family’s life much less stressful than it was and we really appreciate it,” adding that the RNP team has, “made a huge difference in our lives through their compassion and comforting words.”
Visit the Resource Navigation Program in the Family Centre.