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Social Work Students Improved Care Quality, Staff Morale in Independent Living Facility

October 8th, 2015

Story Contact: Jesslyn Chew,

COLUMBIA, Mo. – As a growing population of older adults begins transitioning to assisted living or home health care, more attention has focused on improving the adults’ quality of care while keeping costs low. New research from the University of Missouri suggests adding social workers and social work students, who are supervised by a field instructor, to the care team may be one solution.

“We found social work students gave new energy and life to residents at an independent living facility and took pressure off nursing staff by taking the lead in helping adults navigate challenging family dynamics or other issues,” said Colleen Galambos, professor and director of the graduate certificate in gerontological social work at MU. “Not only was patient care improved, but also staff morale and workload.”

The researchers interviewed employees, from a variety of disciplines and positions, at TigerPlace, an independent living facility in Columbia, Missouri, who had interacted with graduate social work students, residents and residents’ families. The researchers asked staff members how the students contributed to client services, staff workload and family and client communication.

Staff members said they viewed the social work students as resources and sought their advice on communication strategies as well as behavioral and mental health issues. Staff members also reported the social work students positively contributed to client care and clients’ quality of life by increasing communication among clients, families and staff.

“Because social work students were on hand to help with family communication, nursing staff could focus on critical physical issues that really needed their specialized attention,” Galambos said. “Before, nurses may have been taking care of a wound while also dealing with family dynamics, which could detract from the amount of time to provide physical care. Together, the social worker and nurse provide holistic care to the patients.”

Because of the qualitative nature of the study, Galambos said the study results cannot be generalized. However, she said the study findings should encourage health care administrators to think carefully about staffing changes when faced with budget cuts.

“Social workers often are the first staff to go when funding decreases, but they’re vital members of the care team,” Galambos said. “The improved quality of care and staff morale we saw in our study seems to come from the interdisciplinary approach that allows patients to get comprehensive, individualized care so they can age in place.”

The study, “Staff perceptions of social work student contributions to home health care services at an independent living facility,” was published in Home Healthcare Now. Galambos is a professor in the School of Social Work, which belongs to the MU College of Human Environmental Sciences. MU co-authors include Julie Starr, a nurse practitioner at MU Health; Katy Musterman, nursing manager of Aging in Place at TigerPlace; and Marilyn Rantz, Curator’s Professor Emerita at the MU Sinclair School of Nursing.