For the media

Supporting vulnerable patients

By The Health News Team | March 30, 2021
Olivia Frankiewicz is a social worker with Sharp Grossmont Hospital.

There are those who meander along the career path, eventually settling with a role that suits them well enough. Then there are people destined for a role handmade for them, a fate they’ve felt since their younger years. Sharp Grossmont Hospital social worker Olivia Frankiewicz is one such person.

In high school, she volunteered in nursing homes, and delivered meals to home-bound seniors. Service work was further engrained in her during college, where she mentored a young girl for two years in the Big Sister Program, and later traveled to Jamaica with Intercollegiate YMCA, to work with children in orphanages. After college Olivia joined AmeriCorps as a full-time volunteer, helping to tutor kids in South-Central Los Angeles. Some of those kids were in foster care, and Olivia’s pull toward helping those in need gained even more momentum.

“Although the settings were varied, I’ve found through my philanthropic and professional experience that there’s a common thread, and that is individuals are very complex,” she says. “I chose social work to help those who are most vulnerable, those who are underserved, ignored, abused or neglected.”

Providing a support system for the most vulnerable

Recently, a patient admitted to Sharp Grossmont’s ER was identified as a victim of human trafficking. After the patient was admitted, Olivia was called to help assess the situation and spoke to the woman to understand her situation. Though the details were painfully hard to hear, Olivia committed to helping and empowering this woman, who had nowhere to go and felt little self-worth.

“She had no support system,” says Olivia. “We were her people.”

It was a delicate process that took more than one try. Although the hospital referred the patient to a mental health stabilization program, she never made it there and sadly returned to her abuser. She returned to Sharp Grossmont for medical reasons and was once again admitted to the hospital.

This time, the patient decided she was ready for a life change, and entered a long-term substance abuse treatment program, one in which Olivia had previously secured a spot for her and held out hope the patient would someday take advantage of the opportunity. Hope indeed won out.

“I was determined to not be another person that let her down,” says Olivia. “I worked to humanize her to herself, and told her how kind, strong, brave and intelligent she was while keeping her focused on her primary goal: to reunite with her children.”

Kathleen Black, a lead medical social worker, says a collaborative effort to connect the patient with law enforcement — more than 25 phone calls made — and an intricately strategic discharge plan were made possible by Olivia’s determination. “Because of her strength, compassion and ability to sit down with the patient and openly listen to her story, Olivia formed a trust that led to the patient’s placement in the program.”

Olivia says she was determined to make a difference. “In her case, I knew I could do better for her, no matter how hard I had to try or how much time I had to invest in her.”

Situations such as these are common in social work, and many of these stories don’t turn out with such hopeful endings. Limited resources for nonprofit treatment programs and legal issues further complicate efforts to help vulnerable patients succeed, but social workers simply don’t give up.

“In the mental health and social work field, we often say that we can’t work harder than the client — that they have to want it more than you. But in her case, where her ‘normal’ had been so awful, I had to work harder than her to ensure she knew she is worth fighting for.”

“Victories like these are what keep social workers motivated,” says Olivia. “Helping others is not just a job, but a passion. It is who I am, and my identity. I can’t see myself doing anything else.”

Learn more about career opportunities with Sharp HealthCare.

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