Caring. Listening. Connecting.

March 5 - 11 is Social Work Week

Social work intern Shaina Thompson and social worker Jean Sommerdyk discussing discharge arrangements with Christine Bernier and Patrick Fernandes

Social work intern Shaina Thompson and social worker Jean Sommerdyk discussing discharge arrangements with Christine Bernier and Patrick Fernandes.

Social work is a profession that helps people enhance their well-being by showing them how to resolve challenges by developing their skills, and increasing their ability to identify and access personal and community resources.  Patients like Patrick Fernandes know well the multi-faceted value of social workers.

For the past two years or more, uncertainty has stalked Patrick’s health care path. From an initial diagnosis in 2015 of stroke, to a tentative diagnosis of multiple sclerosis in 2017, to a probable diagnosis of the autoimmune disorder Neuromyelitis Optica (NMO) which impacts the spinal cord, Patrick and his partner Christine Bernier have been on an emotional roller coaster ride.

For the rehabilitation phase of Patrick’s health care journey, he came to Parkwood Institute. “I soon realized Parkwood Institute was more like a community than a hospital because you feel safe in a community,” says 59-year-old Patrick. “That’s the beautiful thing about being here —from social work, to doctors, to nurses, to chaplains, to therapists—everyone supports you and treats you with compassion and dignity.”

Helping Patrick navigate the road to return to his home and to live well with NMO is social worker Jean Sommerdyk. “At the first family meeting, I connected with Jean instantly,” says Patrick. “I could tell she was really listening to my story.” 

“It sounds so cliché, but the reason I wanted to become a social worker was to help people with their concerns,” says Jean, a social worker since 2002. “My favourite part of the job is hearing patients’ stories.”  

Jean explains there are three areas social workers address – funding, housing and social support.  “We connect patients with the help and resources they need when they’re discharged.” Social workers build on patients’ strengths to help them navigate their new health status following injury or illness. Counselling is offered to both the patient and the family to support adjustments to changes in their lives. 

Shaina Thompson, a third year social work student at King’s University College, says, “For a career in social work, I believe you have to have a passion for helping people, and for social justice, equity and equality.”

NMO is incurable, but treatable. Today, Patrick is living at home exploring his interests in painting, photography and writing. “This has been a hard journey – from walking one day to not having the use of my legs two years later. But if this this is going to be my life, if my story can touch just one person, I want the public to know about NMO and about how valuable the guidance of a social worker like Jean is in helping someone like me navigate the systems supporting health care. ”

One important connection Jean made for Patrick was with the Possibilities Project to help with the cost of installing a wheelchair lift and accessible entrance at his house. Chris Fraser, a former patient of the Spinal Cord Injury Program who is now a dietitian with the team, started the Possibilities Project, which aims to ease the financial burden for inpatients and outpatients with spinal cord and acquired brain injuries. Through donations to the Project via the St. Joseph’s Health Care Foundation and other fundraising initiatives, the Project offsets the cost of medical equipment like wheelchairs, hospital beds and home modifications to enhance the independence and quality of life for patients returning home. 

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