East Kootenay social worker program expanded to enhance primary care

East Kootenay social worker program expanded to enhance primary care

Parternship between EK Division of Family Practice and Ktunaxa Nation to improve health care acess

Advocates are welcoming the expansion of an East Kootenay health care program that brings doctors and social workers together to provide better care for patients with complex needs.

Physicians have had limited access to social workers in the past, however, through the primary care social worker program, family doctors can now request a consultation for patients who may need extra support.

How it works — a social worker meets with a patient and doctor to discuss the patient’s needs, coordinates referrals to other community and health services, and provides the patient with additional support where required.

“We know that social determinants like poverty, disability, housing, and employment have a direct and profound impact on patients’ health,” says Dr. Katherine Wight, a family doctor in Cranbrook and a member of the East Kootenay Division of Family Practice (EK Division). “By helping to coordinate patients’ social, financial or behavioural needs, having a social worker on my team allows me to more effectively focus on my patients’ medical care. It’s definitely making a difference in the quality of care we are able to provide in our community.”

The program began in 2014 as a pilot project of the EK Division and was a key component of the region’s ‘A GP for Me’ strategy, aimed at improving access to primary care across the East Kootenay. Given the success of the program, the EK Division partnered with the Ktunaxa Nation to secure ongoing funding for an expanded program.

A primary care social worker is now available in six communities — Cranbrook, Kimberley, Creston, Elk Valley, Invermere and Golden. Social workers are permanently employed through the Ktunaxa Nation, and work in doctors’ offices and Band health centres.

“When a person is struggling with social issues, their health is greatly affected,” said Debbie Whitehead, Director, Social Investment at Ktunaxa Nation Council. “Through the social worker program, we are able to provide our citizens with the best primary health care, while supporting doctors and nurse practitioners with patients whose social needs are a barrier to their health.”

The East Kootenay region is one of the first places in B.C. to integrate social workers into primary care teams. It is an example of the work that is underway across the province to transform the primary care system through the introduction of integrated, team-based care.

Initial results show it has had meaningful benefits for patients and health care in the region. Results from the pilot program show that over an 18-month period:

• Social workers conducted 3,338 visits with 626 patients, resulting in 783 referrals to other community services. The top three services provided by the social workers included: advocacy (financial, disability, housing, food), coordination of health services, and counseling.

• Approximately 6.7 emergency room visits per month were prevented.

• Physicians referring more than five patients to social workers were able to free up three additional appointments per week for other patients.

“Perhaps the greatest testament to the program is that when funding for the pilot program came to an end, there was an outcry from physicians who felt it had become an essential part of the care they provide to patients,” said Jana Schulz, the social worker dedicated to serving the serving the Cranbook area.

“The issues I assist patients with are primarily around finances, disability, housing, and employment. These are issues that greatly affect patient health, but are outside the scope of the care that family doctors can reasonably provide.”

An example of how social issues can affect one’s physical well-being is in the case of a person struggling with financial stability, who cannot afford the medication prescribed by their doctor.

“If they need to apply for Income Assistance, it can only be done online. This is a huge barrier to many people who don’t have access to a computer, or who may not be computer literate,” said Schulz. “In these situations, I help the patient to apply for Income Assistance, so that they can afford the medication they need.”

Anyone living in the Cranbrook area who feels they would benefit from the primary care social worker program are encouraged to discuss it with their family doctor. Physicians requiring more information should contact the East Kootenay Division of Family Practice at (250) 426-4890.

Just Posted

The Kootenay International Junior Hockey League met for their AGM and announced a number of new initiatives, new awards and changes in their executive committee, as well as the starting date for the 2021-22 season. Paul Rodgers file.
KIJHL announces start dates for 2021-22 season

Season set to begin Oct. 1 with league still following all health guidelines

Calvin Dickson photo.
Severe thunderstorm watch in effect for East Kootenay

Conditions favourable for the development of thunderstorms, hail and heavy rain

The Independent Investigations Office of BC is looking into a Castlegar incident. File photo
Police watchdog investigating Castlegar incident

IIO: Woman sustained a reportedly self-inflicted injury

After being forced to cancel in 2020 due to the pandemic, the Wasa Triathlon is being organized for August. Bulletin file photo.
Information released for Gerick Sports Wasa Triathlon scheduled for August

In 2020 the COVID pandemic forced the Gerick Sports Wasa Triathlon to… Continue reading

The latest EKASS survey confirms a steady decline in substance use among EK youth over the years. (image compilation via Pixabay)
Latest survey shows steady decline in adolescent substance use over the years

Starting in 2002, the survey has been conducted every two years to monitor changes in substance use patterns, attitudes and behaviors amongst East Kootenay youth.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau participates in a plenary session at the G7 Summit in Carbis Bay, England on Friday June 11, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada donating 13M surplus COVID-19 vaccine doses to poor countries

Trudeau says the government will pay for 87 million shots to be distributed to poor countries

Montreal Canadiens goaltender Carey Price (31) is scored on by Vegas Golden Knights defenseman Alec Martinez, not pictured, during the second period in Game 1 of an NHL hockey Stanley Cup semifinal playoff series Monday, June 14, 2021, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
Habs fall 4-1 to Vegas Golden Knights in Game 1 of NHL semifinal series

Match was Montreal’s first game outside of Canada in 2021

Kelowna-Lake Country MLA Norm Letnick, assistant deputy speaker at the B.C. legislature, presides over committee discussions. The legislature is completing its delayed spring session this week, with most MLAs participating by video conference. (Hansard TV)
B.C.’s daily COVID-19 infections dip below 100 over weekend

Only 68 new cases recorded Monday, four additional deaths

B.C. ambulance station in Revelstoke is expected to get a new system called the Scheduled On-Call (SOC) this fall. (Liam Harrap - Revelstoke Review)
B.C. ambulance changes could put Revelstoke residents at risk, warn local paramedics

Paramedics said to expect a substantial increase in ambulance response time starting this fall

The BC Ferries website went down for a short while Monday morning following a provincial announcement that recreational travel between health authorities can resume Tuesday. (Black Press Media file photo)
BC Ferries’ website crashes in wake of provincial reopening announcement

Website back up now, recreational travel between health regions to resume as of Tuesday

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

The Kamloops Indian Residential School is photographed using a drone in Kamloops, B.C., Monday, June, 14, 2021. The remains of 215 children were discovered buried near the former school earlier this month. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Communities grapple with what to do with former residential and day schools

Some tear them down as a tool to help healing, others repurpose them as tools for moving forward

FILE – Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry talks about B.C.’s plan to restart the province during a press conference at Legislature in Victoria, Tuesday, May 25, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
B.C. watching U.K.’s COVID struggles but don’t think province will see similar pitfalls

Studies show that one dose of vaccine is only 33 per cent effective in preventing B.1.617.2 spread

RCMP Const. Shelby Patton is shown in this undated handout photo. RCMP say that Patton was hit by an allegedly stolen truck that he had pulled over on Saturday morning in Wolseley, east of Regina. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, RCMP
Pair charged in Saskatchewan Mountie’s death make first court appearance

Const. Shelby Patton was hit by an allegedly stolen truck that he had pulled over Saturday morning

Most Read