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Social Workers Help Patients, Families Navigate Challenges that Arise During Illness, Injury or Advancing Age 

Long before starting her career in social work, Shannan Martins, LICSW, admits that she believed one of the many misconceptions about social work — that the field was primarily focused on child welfare.

An eye-opening conversation with a college social work professor, known for her advocacy work and service to Boston’s Chinatown community, inspired her to become a social worker. Her career began with working at Central Boston Elder Services, BayPath Elder Services, and in nursing homes and other settings.

Today, Shannan Martins is proud to lead the home health medical social work team at VNA Care. In her role, she and her colleagues provide supportive care as patients and their families navigate the many challenges and changes that can arise from illness, injury or advancing age.

Shannan sees patients of all ages. She points out that whether it’s a frail elder, a disabled adult or teenager, each has experienced a “medical event that took their life on a different road.”

VNA Care’s medical social workers are important contributors to patient care in home health and hospice. Shannan explained, “We help people navigate the many challenges and changes that may arise during times of illness or injury or when faced with a chronic disease.” This includes providing education and guidance on everything from the family and medical leave act to tenants’ rights to changes in Medicare supplemental insurance plans. The team helps people access community resources and assistance programs, such as free and subsidized medications, counsel patients and families as they deal with stress, anxiety, isolation and depression, and link people to mental health resources. Shannan added, “I find it very fulfilling being able to tap into all that social workers can do to support our patients’ health and their ability to remain independent at home.”

Shannan sees the effects of the pandemic remain a major concern with patients and families struggling to buy groceries and other necessities as inflation takes its toll. For vulnerable and immunocompromised patients, COVID-19 is still a looming danger. A couple currently under Shannan’s care is so afraid of contracting COVID-19 that they do not want anyone coming into their home, not even their family. “I worry because one of them has dementia. It’s very overwhelming for that caregiver to then shut everyone out because of fear,” said Shannan.

Another of her patients is recovering from COVID-19 and is no longer able to do gardening and other physical activities that had given his life meaning. “He said, ‘I have no purpose.’ It broke my heart,” said Shannan. Now she is working with him to rebuild what makes his life meaningful.

Shannan is also very cognizant of the stream of major life transitions that seniors face, from housing concerns to deciding whether to continue driving.

She said, “When elders give up their car keys, that’s an enormous loss and a huge transition. When they have to give up bathing on their own and cooking on their own, all of these are losses. We should treat them as monumental as grieving a family member because it is a big piece of their life and their world.” Shannan spends time validating these losses and promoting understanding of these difficult changes among their children and loved ones.

“Sometimes our cases can be really hard.” She reflected on one social worker who is devoting an extensive amount of time to helping a patient who is being financially exploited, while she is involved with a brother and sister living in a very unsafe home situation. She added, “Knowing that you’re able to help these patients and make a difference is very meaningful.”

This article first appeared in the Spring 2022 edition of Caring Matters. 

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