Special Thanks to Our ESRD Social Workers

Spring is in the air and with the season comes renewal! March is Social Worker month and the NRAA supports the important role of the ESRD Social Worker.

March is Social Worker month and the NRAA supports the important role of the ESRD Social Worker. Service to others is one of the main values in social work, from which all of the other values stem. ESRD Social Workers acknowledge that serving others is more important than self-interest and put the needs of their clients ahead of their own. Our social worker colleagues are essential to the well being of patients and their adjustment to the world of dialysis. So join the NRAA in celebrating the important work of renal social workers in our community and in your facility.

Honored to serve each of you and the NRAA,

Helen Currier, BSN, RN, CNN, CENP


NRAA Chats with an ESRD Social Worker – An Integral Part in Quality Patient Care

In honor of National Social Worker’s month, the NRAA wants to shed some light on this crucial role in our dialysis units. Read the interview with Cecilia “Ceci” Rumsey, MSW a Clinical Social Worker at UVA Dialysis Program and her experiences with ESRD patients.

NRAA: How long have you been a social worker? And how long with ESRD patients?

Rumsey: I am still a relatively new social worker, all things considered.  I have been in the field about three-and-a-half-years and this is my first job as a social worker. My social work experience has been with ESRD patients, with the exception of my internship experiences while in school.

NRAA: What types of challenges do you face with ESRD patients that is unique to ESRD?

Rumsey: Working with ESRD patients is extremely multifaceted!  Social workers, especially, get involved in nearly every aspect of a patient’s life.

One of the biggest challenges for me is limitations in resources and trying to find creative solutions, when possible, for these challenges.  Being able to collaborate with colleagues and community partners is very helpful.  Likely unique to me, another challenge is building my confidence and finding my voice as a newer social work professional - especially in such a complex world as ESRD and dialysis.  There is so much to know and I learn something new almost every day!

NRAA: Nephrology social work is an integral part of the patient experience in dialysis. How do you feel a social worker improves patient outcomes in dialysis?

Rumsey: It’s important to promote independence as much as possible which helps improve overall quality of life.  Part of helping patients is empowering them to do as much as they can for themselves rather than relying on us to do it for them.  I was recently reminded of how important this is when collaborating with a few of colleagues.

In addition, connecting patients to available resources and providing education is key.  Encourage them by helping them see how much they can do.  Balancing when to step in and help versus when to provide support can be tricky, and I am learning how to be better at this each and every day.

NRAA: Is there an area regarding ESRD patients that you would like to bring to light? An area that perhaps other practitioners may not focus on? How can other practitioners help in improving patient outcomes by focusing on this particular area?

Rumsey: I am very fortunate to be part of two centers that work together as an interdisciplinary team.  Our communication is wonderful and we focus on patient-centered care that is individualized to meet the needs of each patient.  Each team member’s point of view about the patient’s care is respected and considered.  Every specialty brings a unique perspective to the table when caring for our patients, and our support for one another positively impacts the care of our patients.  I am also very lucky to have amazing social work colleagues to collaborate with at the other UVA centers.  We come together regularly for meetings and are just a phone call or email away when questions may arise or support is needed.

I do think it is important for us all, myself included, to be mindful of how tough it must be to have ESRD and to have to come to dialysis.  Sometimes we grow frustrated when patients make poor choices, which is easy to do given the close relationships we form with them.  We see that they could be doing better if they would only listen to us!  However, it is not as simple as that.  As the caregivers at dialysis, we need to remember to ‘meet them where they are.’  This is something that comes more naturally to social workers since it’s at the forefront of our training. I’ll admit that it isn’t always easy, though!

NRAA: Can you share a positive story of a patient you worked with who benefited from a social worker taking an active role in their care?

Rumsey: Wow! This is a tough question because it is difficult to pick one situation!

I think the small, practical things are really beneficial.  For instance, facilitating a patient to meet a Medicaid spenddown to become eligible for full Medicaid or gain approval for an assistance program that pays for a medication are two examples. Alleviating that financial burden goes a long way.

I would say that one of my favorite things to do is help my patients travel!  Assisting them set up their dialysis treatments while out of town is fun. I think that when patients are able to get away, even for just a couple days, it really helps improve their quality of life.  It is nice to hear their stories when they get back from their trip to the beach, visit to meet a new grandbaby, vacation to Disney World, or trip to see family---whatever the occasion may be.  I like helping them achieve that goal and to see the smiles when they return home.  One patient traveled quite a bit and talked about starting a blog to encourage other patients.  It is a relatively small thing that seems to go a long way.