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Social Workers: Leaders, Advocates, Champions


Symposiums Highlight Roles in Bettering Individuals, Communities

By Bernard S. Little

WRNMMC Command Communications​

What role do social workers play in the current opioid epidemic?

“We need to advocate for our patients, and encourage our patients to advocate for themselves,” said U.S. Public Health Service Lt. Cmdr. Loquita Roberts, a licensed clinical social worker at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. She stressed the importance of relationship-building between providers, beneficiaries and their families, as well as the critical role that multi-disciplinary teams play in the care of patients and their outcomes.

Walter Reed Bethesda registered pharmacist David Rohrbaugh agreed that combating the opioid epidemic requires a team approach, and social workers are key members of multi-disciplinary teams impacting patient outcomes.

“In your jobs and what you do daily, you can create a relationship with the patient that oftentimes a nurse or a doctor can’t, and that might be the difference between someone transitioning to a misuse point [of opioids] or not,” Rohrbaugh added.

Roberts explained it’s important for social workers to know the signs for opioid addiction, which can include dramatic shifts in moods from sleepiness to euphoria, nausea, confusion, constricted pupils, slowed breathing, constipation, slurred speech, itching, isolation, and doctor shopping (multiple prescriptions from different doctors). Long-term effects of opioid abuse can result in organ damage and eventually, death, she furthered.

“We need to improve prescribing of opioids, expand treatment of addiction, and reduce access to illegal opioids,” Rohrbaugh stated, adding that while the United States accounts for only 4.3 percent of the world’s population, U.S. consumption of the world’s natural and synthetic opiates is at least 85 percent.

Alternatives to opioid use for pain relief can include acupuncture, physical therapy, meditation, massage therapy, chiropractic and cognitive behavioral therapy, among others therapies, the pharmacist and social worker explained.

Roberts and Rohrbaugh were among a number of speakers who discussed various topics focused on this year’s theme for National Social Work Month (NSWM) during three day-long symposiums at WRNMMC. Observed annually during March, this year’s theme for NSWM highlighted social workers as leaders, advocates and champion.

Stacee Springer, also a licensed clinical social worker at WRNMMC, stated that social workers advocate for their clients in obtaining “fair and equitable access to public services and benefits,” as well as “equal treatment and protection under the law, and they “challenge injustices that affect the vulnerable and disadvantaged.”

Springer provides individual and family supportive counseling for children, adolescent and young adults, as well as their family members who have been diagnosed with a childhood type of cancer at WRNMMC. She also provides patient and parent education regarding advanced care planning, which includes advanced directives, guardianship and powers of attorney. The social worker explained a common goal of those in her profession is to help their “clients become independent and exercise influence and control over their own lives.” She added social workers also advocate for their clients even when the client doesn’t agree with the social worker. “We can’t control [our clients’] choices or behaviors, but we still advocate for them based on what we determine to be the [best] recommendation. We want to enhance their well-being.”

Army Lt. Col. Liquori L. Etheridge, another licensed clinical social worker at WRNMMC, agreed, adding, “As a member of a multidisciplinary team, [social workers] conduct routine, acute assessments and follow-up evaluations and treatment in the form of individual, family and group therapy for children, adolescents and families.

The Army officer explained that as leaders and champions in health care, social workers “have an obligation to advocate for the needs of individual, families and positively impact communities.”

Social workers contribute to military readiness by helping to ensure service members are mentally and emotionally fit to serve, Etheridge added. The lieutenant colonel stated, “[Social workers] preserve the fighting force by providing service members centered behavioral health care services.

“Social workers should incorporate the organizational mission, values and goals combined with the social and psychology aspects and principles associated with the field of social work,” Etheridge added.

According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, there are approximately 680,000 social work professionals who act as advocates, champion and leaders for those whom they serve throughout the United States. In addition, the National Association of Social Workers states that clinical social workers are the largest group of mental health providers in the United States.​