By Noe Gutierrez
Much has been made about nurses being essential workers and there is absolutely no argument to be made. My mother, Mary Gutierrez, is a Registered Nurse at John F. Kennedy Hospital in Indio and you won’t encounter any argument from me about who are the unquestionable heroes of the pandemic. Coachella Valley nurses have not only provided outstanding medical care to patients for many years now at our three valley hospitals, JFK, Eisenhower Medical Center and Desert Regional Medical Center, they have withstood 12-hour shifts, challenging work environments, and the physical demands to make sure that the standard of care remains high in order to suppress the ongoing negative consequences of COVID-19.
Alongside our incredible nurses, doctors and medical staff are the frequently overlooked medical social workers. I have the honor of working at EMC as a medical social worker and it has been arduous as well as gratifying. As medical social workers, we concentrate specifically in the areas of public health, geriatric, palliative and inpatient medical or behavioral health care. As well as hospitals, we also work in other specialized medical environments like nursing homes, rehabilitative care centers and hospice settings.
Medical social workers often collaborate with other medical professionals such as doctors, nurses, discharge coordinators, administrative staff and physical therapists as part of an interdisciplinary team.
They are primarily involved in preparing patients for life after leaving a residential setting and providing support to clients and family members in the forms of discharge planning, psychosocial counseling, grief counseling, case management, and referrals. Certain issues addressed by medical social workers include terminal illness, catastrophic disability, end of life decisions, homelessness, independent living resources, medication adherence and management, or suicidality. Many medical social workers in the Coachella Valley are also authorized by Riverside County to facilitate 72-hour involuntary holds, or 5150s, that protect individuals who are a danger to themselves, others and/or are gravely disabled.
Due to the nature of their work, medical social workers interact with patients in some of their most challenging and vulnerable moments, navigating our health care system’s baffling political, social and regulatory challenges to help patients and their loved ones achieve the most favorable outcomes.
My first Master of Social Work internship placement was at Eisenhower Medical Center several years ago. I subsequently completed internships at Pitzer College in Claremont and my final internship was with the Office of Congressman Raul Ruiz, MD in Palm Desert. Looking back, I always wanted to return to work at EMC.
Now that I am back at EMC, I once again realized the provision of care of patients is directly related to the quality of the staff and their understanding of the community in which they serve. I recall Norma Zapata, Licensed Clinical Social Worker, my supervisor, shared with me that by using social work skills as tools to propose change, not just in the hospital, but in our neighborhoods, larger communities and the world, we will further legitimize the profession.
EMC continuously ranks among the top hospitals in the nation and this year is no exception. Eisenhower Health, ranks #1 in the Inland Empire and #20 in all of California, placing Eisenhower in the top 5 percent of hospitals in the state. In my opinion, this is directly related to patient care and an emphasis on comprehensive and universal treatment.
The world event that is COVID-19 has influenced the policies and procedures of all valley hospitals. There have been swift measures to educate all staff on the ever-changing pandemic and virus while maintaining a level of care that is extraordinary. These examples represent the vision of area hospitals to keep all of their employees, patients and families informed and safe.
During my time at EMC I have realized the social work profession in the hospital setting continues to be an integral part of a patient’s hospital experience. I feel confident that we will continue to strive to advance the profession by maintaining professionalism, utilizing evidence-based practices and following the direction of hospital leaders.
Please take the time to privately and publicly thank all staff at JFK, EMC and DRMC for their service.
Noe Gutierrez, MSW, CADC II
Eisenhower Medical Center
The Refinery Integrated Wellness Services
Alert Program, Inc.