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Social workers added to ER

Social worker Serena Newbauer consults with Dr. Zachary Phelps. - Submitted photo
Social worker Serena Newbauer consults with Dr. Zachary Phelps.
— image credit: Submitted photo

Last year, Whidbey General Hospital added social workers to the emergency room staff to help the more than 50 patients who request emergency services each day.

The program has been well-received, said emergency department manager Bonnie Maley.

“The social workers made a tremendous difference reducing the anxiety level of patients,” she said in a news release. “Their attention to the psycho-social aspects of care allows the doctors and nurses to do their jobs more effectively, which results in positive outcomes for patients.”

Emergency room social worker Angela Tull is confident her work makes a difference to the patients she works with.

“Sometimes I simply provide an attentive, comforting presence, but more commonly I have the skills and the knowledge to identify resources which can make a critical difference in the patient’s situation following discharge from the ER.”

According to hospital officials, the need for emergency room services at Whidbey General increased by 23 percent over the last two years. The program allows doctors to concentrate on the patient’s medical condition, while trained social workers focus on the remaining concerns, which may involve follow-up care or financial assistance.

Officials say over half the emergency room accounts are sent to collection annually and nearly 9 percent of emergency room patients have no health insurance. The hospital hopes that social workers can act as a resource for financially challenged patients.

Beth Stout, director of financial services, said Whidbey General is open to working on payment options.

“Patients with financial concerns can help us help them by letting the social worker know they cannot pay all or part of their ER visit charges,” she said. “WGH financial workers have many options to help defray costs if we just know there is a problem.”

The Whidbey Hospital Foundation sought more funding to increase the staffing numbers and extend the program’s service hours because of its early success. The foundation got its wish; a grant awarded in late 2008 provided enough funding to extend the social worker program hours from eight to 12 hours a day, seven days per week.

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