Rhonda

Maimonides Medical Center
Social Work

< back

Pete

Where are you from? Tell us a little bit about how you got into this business.

Kristen

I grew up with a mother as a social worker. And I saw the daily struggle. I witnessed it growing up, and I never thought that that was going to be my path. I actually was very artistic. My dream was to become an interior designer. And I looked at it, and I was considering it. And, and then somehow, when I was in college, I just fell into the lap of social work. I really didn't mean to, it wasn't intentional, but I think because I was so good at it, it kind of just went that way. And I was very intrigued by the inner workings of the mind therapy and all the different diagnoses. So I started taking some classes, and then I really loved it. So I just went for it. So it's kind of a happy accident.

So what is your favorite part of the job?

 Just being able to see the difference that I make in people's lives. And them actually verbalizing it to me is really nice. Before this, I had always worked with kids that worked in foster care, and schools and stuff like that. And you don't really get the gratification so much in those settings. But here now working with the elderly population, they actually are so grateful and tell me about it. So it's nice to get that back.

Can you give us an example of some of that feedback, or things that have touched you that people have said you?

I mean, so there's so many things, I don't even know where to begin. But I guess I can’t think of an exact like narrative per se. But there are a few patients that I have closer relationships with, who just always, you know, tell me how important I am to them, and how I've really changed their lives. And they appreciate me and I even have some of my patients tell me they love me.

It's really cute. And just as I don't know, I tried to really put it into words. But I guess maybe it's more of a feeling than anything else half the time. But, sometimes they do verbalize it, it’s very nice so that is cool.

So just, you know, for people to understand, in case people don't understand a little bit about what you do, like, 

Can you explain a little bit about what a social worker does?

Well, Social Work is basically similar to being a psychologist or therapist. But in addition to that, in addition to the therapy it’s so much more, which is why I like social work. As opposed to doing psychology, because you wear so many different hats. And you can help in so many more ways that are versatile. So for example, the whole goal of having me here is to basically see the person as a whole person, as opposed to just the medical model of, “they need this medication, and they need physical therapy, and they need whatever.” I cover all the other bases. So anything social, any economic financial struggles, family education. So for our patients, they're usually about 80 and above for the most part. So I helped set them up with long term care, home care, and I do all of our durable medical equipment orders as well. I've kind of taken on that task, which keeps me pretty busy. So all their hospital beds and walkers and related things like that. But I would say, the main piece that I cover here is really family support and coordination and education. Because a lot of our patients have dementia, so I work very closely with their caretakers and their families to help guide them through the whole process and support them along the way.

Pete

That's that's got to be tough.

It is tough, but I’m somehow able to not take it home with me, and give it my best while I'm here. But it's very hard.

It’s very hard, but I try to advocate as much as I can for the right ways to work with somebody who has dementia because a lot of times, I feel like in our society, they're kind of that population is kind of ignored. Like to us, “they're gone, they don't know what they're talking about.” But even if they're not cognitively intact at all, I do my best to make sure that I speak with the patient themselves directly and ask them, “How are they doing,” even if they tell me they’re in 1925, and they're going to work. I still listen to them, and make sure they feel heard, and make sure they feel important. Because they may not be exactly where we're at, in the reality that we know, but it's still important to make sure that they feel heard and important. So I try to advocate for that as much as I can. And yeah, it is challenging, some of the behaviors are really kind of scary and challenging. But the more I educate myself on it, the better and more competent I feel working with it.

Is it tough to communicate with the families of dementia patients in this heartbreaking process?

Yeah, it is heartbreaking. And I will say I'm impressed with the strength that I've seen

as far as the families go, they really endure a lot and they handle a lot. I've had many people cry in my office, of course, and sometimes it's hard for me not to cry with them I'm not going to lie.

But I kind of arm them with the support and education that they need. I'm connected with an agency called Caring Kind. They basically were part of the Alzheimer's Association then they went off in their own direction to focus more on caregiver support, to help with caregiver stress and caregiver burden. So they have a lot of free programs and educational seminars. So I refer to them a lot. If I didn't have them, I don't know what I would do.

I’m glad Parachute can help make your life easier:

Yeah, it was a very different experience before Parachute came along. It was like, faxing 1000 times I'm not getting it. Me having to stand at the fax machine all day sending dozens and dozens of paperwork and waiting months and months for the equipment, and they're miscommunications and whatnot. So when Allison introduced me to Parachute, I actually couldn't believe it was a true. It seemed too good to be true. And it's definitely given me more responsibility in a way because I'm the one plugging in all the diagnosis codes. I'm the one doing the whole order as opposed to the doctor writing the script. But I'm learning. It's great, I love it. I mean, of course, I've had some technical difficulties here and there. But overall, it's been a game changer.

When you go to work, who is your favorite person interact with. Who really helps you out?

My role here is kind of unique in that most social workers work with other social workers and have a direct supervisor in the same field. This is the first time that I've just been isolated as the only mental health person in my entire setting. So I don't have a direct connection to another mental health person. Which I kind of like in a way because I have the autonomy to build my own little practice here the way I want, which is cool. But as far as somebody that I think goes above and beyond every single day and I don't even know how she does it - I would say that would be Dr. Paris which is the medical director here she's the head geriatrician. She's the one who basically kept me here because I was here through a grant temporarily. I was placed here just through a district grant. And then she noticed how crucial I was to her practice. So she fought to keep me here. She's amazing. She's a doctor who cares more than anyone. She will be on vacation dealing with patients like she doesn't ever turn it off.

I will say I have pretty much nothing but amazing things to say about every doctor we have here. They're all just amazing. Every single one of them.  

Who is your hero, who's somebody who helped shape who you are?

I would say my grandma. She passed away like five years ago. But she is from Puerto Rico. I grew up with her, almost like my second mom. And she was just the type of person who, even though she came from a generation where people were kind of old school and backwards, in a way, she was the total opposite. Just accepting of everybody, she treated everybody like they were extremely important, and didn’t judge whatsoever. Just across the board, [she was] kind of giving and extremely generous, and wanted nothing in return at all. So I think I've always aspired to be like her. And people around me, told me that I am pretty much like a carbon copy, even down to a sense of humor.  So, she would definitely be the one.

What makes you most proud?

 I've always prided myself on being extremely strong and independent and self sufficient. 

Do you have a role model or a motto that gets you out of bed each morning?

I don’t have a motto.. I will say I, this is the first time I've ever had a job where I'm actually happy to go to work every morning. When I first started here, I was hesitant, because I always worked with children. That's what I loved. So working with the opposite population was a little daunting to me, it wasn't something I was really into, per se. And then when I started here, my whole perception of the whole thing flipped completely around and ended up falling in love with it. And I think it was mostly because of the actual atmosphere of this job, where instead of being treated like the scum of the earth, which, unfortunately, is how social workers are treated in a lot of settings, I was really like this magical Angel person who has come in to save the day.

And the doctor really kind of put me up on a pedestal  and just make me feel so special and needed and important. I had an injury last year, I was out for five weeks, and I came back and they were all just waiting for me. Like, “Oh, my God, Don't ever leave us again! Thank you so much for coming back.” Made me feel very important.

What happened?

it was really bad. But everybody here, all the doctors pitched in. And they were sending me things to my house. Sending me letters and cookies and stuff and telling me how much they miss me and texting me and calling me so it was really nice.

So what do you do for fun?

Pretty much anything that involves food, music, or animals. My three favorite things. Yeah, I love going to see live music. I love seeing my friends, going out to eat.Seeing my dog and like my happiness.. My sanity for sure.