"I love the different challenges I'm faced with," says Sylvia Gomes, a social worker in the Emergency Department at Toronto Western Hospital. (Photo: UHN)

For Sylvia Gomes, a typical workday is fast-paced, dynamic and fulfilling.

The social worker at Toronto Western Hospital starts her morning in the Emergency Department (ED) gathering information and providing social support to newly-admitted patients.

On busy days, there might be 100 patients in the ED at one time. And, for social workers such as Sylvia, no two days are the same.

"Patients often rotate through the ED very quickly, so I need to learn different things about the social backgrounds of many different people in very a short period of time," she says.

"I love the different challenges I'm faced with. It keeps me on my toes and it's exciting because I'm never bored, or feel like I'm stagnant."

March is National Social Work Month in Canada, which aims to recognize the hard work, dedication and resiliency of social workers across all clinical disciplines.

At UHN, there are approximately 180 social workers and social service workers at all four hospitals. Social workers practice on the frontline in all clinical areas, including General Internal Medicine, rehabilitation, psychiatry, the Intensive Care Units and EDs, Community Mental Health and Addictions, oncology, the Ajmera Transplant Centre, bariatrics, Krembil Neurosciences, orthopedics, the Sprott Department of Surgery, and the Family Health Team.

A unique aspect of the social work profession at UHN is their involvement throughout the patient's care journey. They perform a multitude of roles, including working with nurses or community partners to create discharge plans, acting as counsellors, assisting with housing and income support, providing support to families, helping to manage chronic conditions or disabilities and supporting palliative care.

"Social workers are integral members of the interprofessional care team," says Nadia Iannetta, Manager, Allied Health Services. "They positively impact patients throughout the entire care continuum in both inpatient and outpatient settings.

"They play a key role in supporting our patients and caregivers by addressing their care needs, linking them with resources and working with their teams to help ease patient flow."

In the ED at Toronto Western, the average turnaround time for a patient is one to three days. To provide the best possible support, Sylvia needs to ensure she understands the full complexity of their social backgrounds, which means she regularly explores a wide variety of areas, including medicine, socioeconomic conditions such as housing, or the criminal justice system.

"There's a lot of different scopes to my work," Sylvia says. "Sometimes it's rehabilitative, sometimes it's social, and sometimes it's just about understanding different fields of medicine so I can get a fuller picture of the patient I'm working with."

'Sometimes the smallest of gestures can mean the most'

The scope of Sylvia's work is also highly therapeutic and psychological, especially when it comes to meeting the personal needs of the individual.

Sylvia says that one of the most fulfilling parts of her job is helping patients feel they are being recognized.

"Many of them don't feel that they are being taken seriously in their personal lives," she says. "A big responsibility of mine is just making that person feel seen."

For example, Sylvia says, there was a time one patient just wanted the chance to take a shower.

"When I helped arrange that, he was so grateful," she says.

Sylvia has also had other encounters where she's been able to have a positive impact on a patient's life.

She recounts one time when the ED was overflowing with patients and extra chairs were brought out for patients who were waiting. Sylvia saw a 90-year-old woman sitting in a chair waiting for admission to the hospital or to be sent to rehab.

"I was able to connect with the family, connect with nursing and doctors and get her into a bed, assessed and to rehab the next day," Sylvia says.

"Those are the moments that are just so lovely about this job because sometimes the smallest of gestures can mean the most."

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