main hospital building at night


Emergency Social Workers Address Community Needs


Historically, Emergency Departments were designed and best equipped to treat the most acute, life or limb cases. In recent years, due to a shortage of family physicians, strained community resources, and an increasing number of patients with complex needs, more individuals are turning to Emergency Departments for treatment than ever before. Last year the Emergency Department at Cornwall Community Hospital (CCH) treated 47,000 patients.

One such patient, whose family caregiver had recently passed away, presented at the Emergency Department seeking care. Despite not needing immediate medical assistance, this individual, who suffered from various disabilities, found themselves with nowhere else to stay or seek support.

According to Dr. Andrew Gibson, an Emergency Physician at CCH, in such situations, “we would never turn people away, but often we may not be resourced or trained to provide that additional level of support beyond medical care.”

In response to this need, our Emergency Department launched a new initiative last fall, hiring two social workers to offer immediate frontline support. Taylor Lacey, one of these social workers, intervened in the case to ensure the patient could be assessed and discharged on the same day with resources and housing plans in place.

Not only did Taylor’s intervention address the patient’s immediate needs, it also prevented the admission of the patient to the hospital, avoiding the unnecessary occupancy of an acute care hospital bed.

“This is the type of issue that having social workers on hand addresses, allowing doctors and nurses to focus on the medical care of patients, which ultimately improves our ability to meet the medical needs of our community,” remarked Dr. Gibson.

Moreover, social workers in the Emergency Department offer counseling to patients and facilitate connections to vital information and support services, including linking them with community resources and aiding in discharge planning. They actively advocate for individuals and address a range of social issues both within the hospital setting and through collaboration with community partners.

What distinguishes these social workers from the Mental Health Crisis Team is their immediate availability within the department 365 days a year to address a range of social issues, alleviating some of the healthcare team's burden after patient triage and before physician consultation, or following any serious traumas and acute mental health challenges. Should additional support be required, at that point the Mental Health Crisis Team may intervene.

Of the 47,000 patients who came to the Emergency Department at CCH in 2023, more than 250 of them received support from one of its social workers.

“We encounter some of the most vulnerable individuals – people facing their toughest days. Working alongside an incredible team, it's immensely gratifying to collaborate and potentially change patients' lives for the better. While it's challenging to witness people at their lowest, I'm driven by the impact we can make and the resources we provide,” explained Taylor. “This is why I chose this profession. Whether it's comforting concerned family members, advocating for patients' care, or navigating complex social cases, I strive every day to turn negative situations into positive outcomes through my efforts and work.”

While the inclusion of social workers in the Emergency Department enhances access to care and improves patient support, we remind people that patients are prioritized based on the severity of their symptoms or injuries when seeking treatment in the Emergency Department. While no one is turned away, non-emergency cases may experience longer wait times.

March is National Social Work Month, a time to acknowledge and express gratitude for the invaluable contributions made by our community's social work professionals. Please join us in recognizing their dedication and impact on our families and communities.