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Mobilizing mental health access and support in the Emergency Department through social work
4 minute read

Mobilizing mental health access and support in the Emergency Department through social work


It’s Social Work Week in Ontario, and across Canada, March is National Social Work Month; David Lubert gives his perspective on practicing social work in the Emergency Department.

Social workers in the Emergency Department (ED) are vital team members who work closely with the physicians, trainees, nurses and other allied professionals in a highly intense environment. Dedicated social work resources were introduced to our ED in 2013 to support the patients, their families, and provide consultation to the medical team.

Social worker posing for the camera in front of the nursing station, hands in pockets, with Emergency Department in the background.
David Lubert, Social Worker, Emergency Department.

I’ve been supporting ED for many years. At SickKids, a social worker can be found working as part of the interdisciplinary team within the ED, providing a valuable service to patients and their families following any serious traumas and acute mental health challenges. The ED social worker can quickly become the main liaison between the medical team and the patients’ loved ones.

From the beginning, Social Work has provided dedicated coverage in the ED 365 days a year. Social workers ease stress on staff by supporting the medical team, so they can focus on caring for our vulnerable patients.

I always feel it is an immense privilege to support people at times of crisis, and hopefully help comfort them and ease their distress. It is the greatest reward knowing you make a real difference. I also get to work alongside an amazing group of people who value social work, who impress me every day.

Compassionate patient and family-centred care

Visiting the Emergency Department can be a stressful experience for most families. Long waits, high volumes, and the chaotic pace of the ED can be unsettling, if not anxiety provoking for many of our families, especially worried caregivers.

The pandemic has contributed towards higher levels of stress for patients, families and staff. One can only imagine how overwhelming it must be to see a team of masked and gowned doctors and nurses surround their child. Social work supports patients and caregivers with a reassuring presence and offers comfort and kindness to help calm anxieties and defuse fears. As social workers, we answer questions and explain what is happening to their child, and accompany them along their hospital ED journey, ensuring they do not feel alone or forgotten.

Social work plays a key role in mental health care in the Emergency Department. We see patients with acute episodes of anxiety, depression, suicidal ideation and many other issues. We conduct thorough psychosocial assessments to assist physicians meet patients’ needs, and support safe discharges with safety planning, sharing education and guidance, as well as resource counselling and service navigation.

Connecting patients and families to community services and supports

Social Work also manages practical and urgent needs for families, whether it be arranging accommodations, liaising with shelters, making sure families have food in the community and much more.

One of my colleagues, Bhupinder Heer, Clinical Manager Social Work, has shared: “Coming to hospital can at times be seen just as supporting the patient with a physical health need, however, more often it’s more than that. Our social workers fill a unique and important role of seeing the person as a whole and considering social determinants and then supporting from a holistic lens which in turn impacts the medical, physical and emotional outcome for the patient and their family.”

Despite the stresses, social work in the Emergency Department can be very rewarding, especially when we make meaningful connections with families, and know we are making a difference in their lives by making their visit a little easier.

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