March is National Social Work Month, and this year the National Association of Social Workers has chosen “Social Workers are Essential” as its theme. At Panhandle Home Health, we wholeheartedly agree, and we thought the best way to celebrate all who dedicate their lives to this honorable profession would be by sharing a bit about our treasured social worker, Angie Slack, who has been with Panhandle almost three years.

We sat down and talked with Angie early in the morning on March 2, before her day began. This is social work, and Angie, in her own words.

I originally wanted to be a teacher when I was younger – my parents were both teachers – but I just felt like it didn’t quite meet the need that I had for helping people. So when I started college, I took classes in psychology, and sociology, and social work, and social work stuck with me the most, being able to help people in such a wide variety of places. You can do everything from working with kids, adults, nursing homes, hospitals, foster care. It just opened so many doors for me to be able to work with a variety of populations and help them.

     My typical day, I come in and see what patients are on my caseload for that day, which I usually know from the night before, but I just verify nobody was added. I look at their order to see if there is anything that tells me why I need to go into their home. For some people, when they are admitted, the doctor will determine to send me out there. The doctor will say, “Put everybody in the home that they are eligible for.” Other times, the therapist, or the nurse, or other people that are in the home will see a need for me, or the patient will actually state a need that they have and the nurse will say, “The social worker can help with that,” so they get the order.

     Then I look at my schedule, see who is on, make the phone call, go out and do the visit, to see what needs they have, what I can help with. Also, while I’m here in the office, I make phone calls to different agencies in the area, Meals on Wheels, senior centers, nursing homes. Usually it’s community-resource type things.

     There are hot topics I kind of touch on at each visit: Do you provide your own transportation? How do you get to your appointments? Do you cook? Who fixes your food for you? Are you able to get dressed, take a bath, and groom? Are you able to do all that yourself?  Can you afford your medications? Who does your grocery shopping?

     So I proceed based on what they tell me. Some people have a lot of friends and family who help them and some people don’t. Some people may be in need of Meals on Wheels. If they say, “I’m not really able to cook for myself,” I say, “Then let’s make a call to them.” Some people may say, “I do well getting dressed, but I haven’t been able to take a shower.” There may be a need for an aide to come in from another agency if they don’t have Panhandle’s aide. Also, I have a list of transportation companies in the area. If they say, “I can’t get to my doctor’s appointment,” or “I don’t know how I’m going to get there,” I say, “Well, here are the transportation providers in the area.”

     Other times, for instance, people need help applying for Medicaid or Social Security disability, and I can help with that online. It can take a couple of hours to do those applications online, but I can assist with that. If they say they are having trouble affording their medications, then I’ll see if I can print out manufacturers’ coupons to give them for medications they are taking that are expensive. It’s a wide variety of tasks, but mainly reaching out to other resources beyond home health, things that are kind of outside of us.

     The most rewarding thing about being a social worker is just being able to help people. Sometimes, being in West Virginia, resources aren’t out there, which can be difficult. When we are able to help somebody get the services they need, it really makes you feel good.

     It’s all about just being there. Often we’re the only visitor somebody has. If they don’t see the home health person, then they don’t see anybody. So it’s nice to be the one someone can talk to, spend some time with.

     Most of the other disciplines are in the home doing hands-on, directed things, whereas I go in and I just talk, and I think it helps. It makes me feel better to know that a patient has somebody, at least one person in that day that they can just sit and talk to.

     What do I like best about working for Panhandle? It’s a really good team and we work together very well, all the different disciplines. I’m the only social worker here, and there are several therapists, nurses, aides, but we don’t differentiate based on our discipline. We’re all focused on the good of our patient.

     My advice for someone who is considering social work is to definitely explore all the different options out there, where you can work. Make sure your goal is helping people because it can be very stressful, very trying, and wear you down. You need to make sure you are good at practicing self-care, taking care of yourself, so you can take care of others. But if you have a heart for helping people, go for it!

Panhandle’s mission would be impossible without staff like Angie, whose qualities of empathy, patience, and compassion are essential to healing. We think the word “encourager” (supporter, uplifter, motivator, advocate) suits Angie and her teammates well.

In March – how about every day? – let’s recognize encouragers. Better yet, let’s resolve to be more like them.