Social worker’s role in long-term care interdisciplinary meetings

By Karen Lok Yi Wong

Like many other healthcare settings, in long-term care (LTC), we often have meetings with clients, families and interdisciplinary professionals. There are many different types and names for these meetings, such as care conferences and ethics rounds. As a social worker working in LTC, I have been involved in facilitating these meetings. In different facilities, this role can be held by professionals from different disciplines. So what are the advantages of having the social worker to take on this role?

One advantage is that although the social worker may not have deep knowledge on each specific professional discipline, he or she often has a broad spectrum of knowledge of different disciplines such as nursing, dietary, physiotherapy, occupational therapy, recreation therapy and more. This gives social worker a more holistic view when reviewing a case and be more objective when working with professionals from different disciplines.

Another advantage is social worker’s specialized skills on communication trained from their professional background. Communication is the expertise of the social work profession. Many communication skills can be applied on meeting facilitation. For examples:

  • Summarizing skills after long discussions to give the participants of the meetings a time and space to refresh and reflect;
  • Checking skills to reduce communication breakdowns in discussions among different parties;
  • Interpretation skills translating technical terms used by professionals of different disciplines into terms which clients and families can understand;
  • Conflict resolution skills such as negotiation and mediation when there are conflicts among clients, families and / or professionals; and
  • Boundary setting skills – In certain circumstances, social worker may need to remind participants the guidelines and boundaries of the meeting (e.g. being respectful and listen to each other, not to interrupt and be mindful with inappropriate language and behaviour).

Another advantage is that social workers can provide valuable information, analysis and insights from their expertise in these meetings. Examples of their expertise include:

  • Social backgrounds of a client such as birthplace, immigration, education, employment and religions, and the implications of these backgrounds on client’s healthcare, personal care and finances;
  • Complex family dynamics such as relationships between client and spouse / partner, between client and adult children, among adult children, what are the implications of these relationships to client’s healthcare, personal care and / or finances, and what are the advantages and disadvantages for family members to meet together and separately; and
  • Law such as the laws and important documents and resources regarding client’s healthcare, personal care and finances decision making when his or her decision making capacity on these areas are questionable, or he or she is not able to make decisions on one or all of these areas.

One more advantage is that while the atmosphere of meetings in a LTC setting could become tense because of the nature of issues discussed (e.g. limited resources in this setting, ethics), a social worker can help to de-escalate the tension with their professional training in relational work. This can include small but significant things such as offering tea and coffee and making sure that the meeting room is comfortable for participants. This can also include more specialized things such as counselling and professional emotional support; for example, offering brief emotional support during the meeting when a family member gets emotional discussing about the goals of care of their loved one who is dying.

A social worker can invite client, family and / or professionals to the meeting and do preparation work with them separately prior to the meeting with their professional training on planning so that each party is intellectually and emotionally better prepared for the meeting and utilize the meeting time and opportunity better. For examples, social worker can give the professionals a summary of the development of the issues going to be discussed in the meeting and heads ups to things to pay attention to which may happen in the meeting (e.g. a family may have inappropriate language to the professionals and how the team can keep the space safe), or provide the client and family guidelines how they can better express their concerns to the interdisciplinary team (e.g. preparing notes, listing out key points).

Karen Lok Yi Wong BA, MA, BSW, RSW, RTC, CT  was trained in social policy at University of York, the United Kingdom and social work at UBC, Canada. She is a registered social worker in British Columbia.