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Social Workers ‘Stand Up’ For All - Forum Begins Month-Long Observance


By Bernard S. Little

WRNMMC Public Affairs

Social workers from throughout the Walter Reed Bethesda community began their observance of National Professional Social Work Month with a day-long forum on March 2 at the medical center.

Topics discussed during the forum touched on a number of issues social workers tackle to help people meet their challenges and build stronger communities. These include individuals who may be experiencing devastating illnesses and mental health crises, veterans, children, families and communities. This is how “Social Workers Stand Up” for those in need, which is also the theme for this year’s observance.
Walter Reed National Military Medical Center Director Army Col. Michael S. Heimall opened the forum welcoming those in attendance and explaining Social Work Month began in March 1963. In 1984, Congress along with the White House officially recognized the month-long observance after a joint resolution introduced by Sen. Daniel Inouye of Hawaii and Rep. Edolphus Towns of New York, made its way to the White House and was signed into law by President Ronald Reagan.
“[The observance is] a great way to honor a profession that does so much,” Heimall said. He challenged social workers, along with the entire WRNMMC staff, to continue to lead the way in moving military medicine, as well as American medicine, forward.
Pointing out that WRNMMC has the only Child and Family Social Work Fellowship Program in the nation, as well as the impact social workers have made with service members and their families in the Warrior Transition Brigade, Heimall explained social workers provide invaluable services throughout the medical center, one of which is helping to identify and manage behavioral health issues.
“When you come to a medical center like Walter Reed Bethesda and you see the complexity of the illnesses and injuries of the people we’re privileged to provide care, you gain a deeper appreciation for what social workers bring to the table,” Heimall continued.
“If you really want to impact health care in America, you have to get at all those social issues that impact health status,” he added. This involves managing patients across the continuum of their care and meeting all of the factors affecting their health – physically, emotionally, spiritually and socially.
Following Heimall’s welcome, Army Maj. (Dr.) Jason M. Blaylock, an infectious diseases physician at WRNMMC, discussed HIV, treatment options and key principles for prescribing PrEP, or pre-exposure prophylaxis, which is a way for people who do not have HIV but who are at substantial risk of getting it, to prevent HIV infection by taking a pill every day.
Blaylock said social workers “are the backbone of the care we provide [many] of our patients. A lot of you are embedded in our subspecialty clinics and even on the surgical side.” He added “to realize the potential benefits of PrEP, we need to address awareness by those at risk for HIV infection, [and] educate providers on recognizing the risk and linking patients to PrEP services. Social workers are important in this effort, he explained.
Army Lt. Col. Ronald Whalen, Ph.D., and a licensed social worker, agreed, adding social workers embedded within units, especially those deployed, serve as advocates for individual service members and their families. Whalen, who has deployed twice to Iraq, explained social workers are the vital links between individuals and commanders in helping to assess the behavioral and mental health status of service members and the unit.
For some service member back from deployments and receiving care at WRNMMC assigned to the WTB, “their journey of getting better is going to be life-long,” said Col. Christopher Boyd, commander of the WTB, National Capital Region. Helping them with that journey is the WTB Social Work staff. Sandra C. Loader, senior social worker within the WTB, NCR, explained her staff, along with the WTB multidisciplinary team, stands up for Soldiers within the unit through six domains: career; physical; emotional; social; family; and spiritual. The emotional, social, family and spiritual domains are primarily managed by the Social Work members.
Boyd explained the WTB and its social workers are focused on helping Soldiers in the unit transition from WRNMMC either back into the force, or as productive members of the civilian community. “The social work team plays an integral role [in this effort],” he added.
Loader explained social workers assist Soldiers in “approaching life’s challenges in a positive, optimistic way by demonstrating self-control, stamina and good character with [their] choices and actions.” In addition, social workers encourage Soldiers to “develop and maintain trusted, valued relationships and friendships.” WTB social workers also stress the importance of families in the healing and transition of the service members, ensuring they have adequate resources to be supportive and secure a healthy environment after transitioning.
Standing up for children is also an important function of social workers, explained licensed social workers Laura Smith and Elaine Richardson-Dalzell. Smith said social workers serve as advocates, therapists, educators, child welfare workers, case managers, care coordinators, as well as work within the juvenile justice system to support children in need.
Family Advocacy Program victim advocate at Walter Reed Bethesda, Lawanda Dezurn, who is also a social worker, explained family violence is an issue not only affecting individual families, but the entire community, as well as military readiness. She explained the FAP is focused on prevention and intervention in child and spouse abuse to protect victims, hold offenders accountable, help families and promote readiness. FAP services include 24/7 crisis response and intervention, domestic violence education, safety planning, advocacy, and emotional support. For more information, call 301-319-4087. After hours, call the command duty officer at 301-538-2843.