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The impact of medical social workers at Sharp Mary Birch

By The Health News Team | March 14, 2023
Medical social workers at Sharp Mary Birch Hospital for Women & Newborns

Medical social workers at Sharp Mary Birch help families navigate the journey of pregnancy, postpartum life and grief through resources and tools.

While many are familiar with the roles social workers play within a population — including providing counseling, resources and referrals to local services — the medical social workers at Sharp Mary Birch Hospital for Women & Newborns also provide a different sort of support to patients and their families. Deploying specialized resources and tools, the medical social work team helps them navigate the journey of pregnancy, postpartum life and sometimes, grief.

Through collaboration with departments within the hospital as well as outside entities, such as local government agencies and nonprofit organizations, Sharp Mary Birch's medical social workers ensure patients have assistance once discharged from the hospital. They empower patients and their loved ones with knowledge and skills to make informed decisions and provide support through any difficulties they may encounter. This support ranges from financial aid, temporary housing and access to mental health services.

To accomplish this, the team has established strong partnerships with several nonprofit organizations that provide essential aid to families in need. These organizations include:

  • Gently Hugged — A nonprofit organization, Gently Hugged donates bags of gently used and new clothing along with blankets, socks and other accessories to families with newborns who are facing financial difficulties. "These generous donations are enough to dress a newborn up until their first birthday," says Karen Anderson, a social work supervisor at Sharp Mary Birch. "This is a heartwarming gesture that has touched many families."

  • The Comfort Cub — Providing solace during immense grief, The Comfort Cub donates special therapeutic, weighted 4-pound teddy bears to families who have lost their newborns as they prepare to discharge from the hospital. These bears are meant to provide healing through deep touch pressure and a small measure of comfort at an otherwise heartbreaking time.

  • Miracle Babies — This nonprofit organization helps families with babies in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) by providing free transportation to and from the hospital. They also provide care packages filled with resources and helpful items to families throughout Southern California.

Weekly support groups provide knowledge and connection

At the hospital, the social work team also facilitates a weekly Perinatal Special Care Unit (PSCU) support group to help make the challenging experience of having a high-risk pregnancy a little easier. The group provides a space for expecting patients to have conversations that can be incredibly helpful in allowing them to feel less alone and more connected to other expectant mothers experiencing similar feelings.

"High-risk pregnancies can be very emotionally and physically difficult for the expectant mother,” says Anderson. “Being in the hospital for an extended period can sometimes be an isolating and depressing experience. Some patients have little ones at home, and knowing they are missing milestones or special family moments can be very hard."

The team also facilitates a support group for NICU families with a similar goal: to help families have a place to share their fears and milestones in an environment of empathy and understanding. During the NICU support group, families have the chance to make scrapbooks, decorate ornaments during the holidays and personalize onesies as they share their stories with others facing similar situations.

"We understand that there will be situations that don’t always match the reproductive story our patients have in mind when they find out they are pregnant," says Anderson, "Our goal is to empower our patients with the necessary tools and support and remind them that they are not alone."

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