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MUSCMedical LinksCharleston LinksArchivesCatalyst AdvertisersSeminars and EventsResearch StudiesPublic RelationsResearch GrantsMUSC home pageCommunity HappeningsCampus NewsApplause


Social workers use trauma to connect

by Dawn Brazell
Public Relations
Medical social workers Cinamon Kerr and Peggy Willis regularly meet people who are lucky to be alive. Working on trauma floors at MUSC, their typical patients arrive with everything from gunshot wounds to head trauma from a car accident.
Medical social workers Cinamon Kerr, right, and Peggy Willis help patients deal with alcohol and/or drug dependence issues.

The women help their patients cope with their trauma, but they do more than that now that MUSC is becoming certified as a Level 1 Trauma Center through the American College of Surgeons. The certification means the hospital is implementing screening and prevention programs to determine if patients who arrive as a Level 1 or 2 trauma are at risk for having or developing a dependence on alcohol and/or drugs. The trauma social workers then provide treatment referrals, education and motivational therapy to the patients who are candidates.
Trained in brief intervention-style therapy, social workers typically have about 20 minutes to make an impact. Willis said amazingly most patients agree to the voluntary intervention. The goal for social workers is to develop a rapport with the patient to be better able to find if there’s an underlying problem that contributed to them being on a trauma floor.
“It’s a good thing,” she said of the program. “There’s definitely a place for it. It could be just the right moment for them—maybe it’s something they’ve been struggling with for years. It’s like a Kodak moment—when the light goes on and the person says, ‘I want help. I want services.’ And you say ‘Wow, I made a difference that day.’”
Kerr said she welcomes the change, too.
“Everyone I see is not an alcoholic,” said Kerr. “Some alcohol use is safe and some other types can lead to unsafe behavior. We’re not going in there with an accusatory style. We go in there saying this person is a victim, whether it is a gunshot wound or an accident. Even if they are at fault, they’re feeling victimized at this point.”
The new program provides follow up tracking to assist people with referrals and to find out if they’re getting help. The goal is to reduce the level of trauma resulting from alcohol and drug use, to reduce rates for driving under the influence and to cut health care costs. Kerr said the certification will take MUSC’s reputation as a quality trauma center from a state to a national level.
Kerr has found that about 50 percent of the trauma cases they see have underlying factors that led to the patients to be hospitalized. Whether it is a person who drank too much and drove or a patient who was the victim of an assault of someone who had been drinking or using drugs, education and awareness become important tools of empowerment.
That’s why another component involves social workers doing community outreach through such programs as the High School Injury Prevention Coalition. The coalition’s goal is to influence and change unsafe driving behaviors of high school students with an emphasis on drinking and driving and seatbelt use.
Kerr said many people have no idea what alcohol their body weight and size can handle. Many are surprised when they tell them what their blood alcohol level was when they were admitted, and some fail to see the connection between their level and the resulting trauma. When she senses it will be effective, she sometimes uses scare tactics to help patients understand the limits of their bodies so they will be more receptive to adopting safer behavior patterns.
“We have to help people see it through the eyes of the people who have gone through it—through the eyes of the mom who lost her child or through the eyes of the family who lost their house because a family member was out of work for eight weeks.”
Willis said their approach is never moralistic. They keep the focus on education and awareness. At first Kerr said she was uncomfortable with the brief intervention style therapy, but then she realized that she could make a difference in a short period of time.
“You have 20 minutes to plant a seed and watch it grow,” said Kerr.
The educational piece of their program now has become a passion for her, and she said she’s thrilled to see the growth in the outreach portion, which other social workers handle.
“I’m going to love to see what it looks like 10 years from now—what we’re actually achieving and how we’re able to track it—how it’s not just a check off for our ACS list. It will be about how we’ve decreased hospitalizations, decreased accidents and deaths,” she said, holding up the treatment assessment form they use to identify patients with potential problems.

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MUSC's social workers serve the Children's Hospital, Hollings Cancer Center, Institute of Psychiatry and many other facilities throughout the medical center. March is Social Work Month with the theme, “Social Workers Inspire Community Action.”

Friday, March 26, 2010

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