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The New Social Worker is the quarterly magazine for social work students and recent graduates, focusing on social work careers for those new to the profession. This blog is a companion to the free online magazine at http://www.socialworker.com.

Monday, March 18, 2013

GUEST POST: Staten Island in the Wake of Superstorm Sandy…

 by Sheila Linden, LMSW, with Rita Ruel

Sheila Linden, LMSW
Note: In March 2010, Sheila Linden, LMSW, a licensed social worker for 30 years, joined VNSNY CHOICE, a subsidiary of Visiting Nurse Service of New York. Sheila was recently recognized among just 64 of VNSNY’s 18,000 staff members to receive an ESPRIT Award, the organization’s highest honor. Chosen to speak at the awards ceremony, Sheila shared her experiences helping VNSNY CHOICE members and others while volunteering at Tottenville High School in Staten Island, in the wake of Superstorm Sandy. Here is the text of her speech:

Even if Superstorm Sandy had never taken place, tonight I would have no shortage of unique and inspirational stories to share about the VNSNY CHOICE members I’ve had the privilege of working with during the past few years.  Collaborating with such an exceptional group of professionals, my VNSNY CHOICE colleagues, has made my experiences even more rewarding…  Here are just a couple of examples: 

Working with Sally, a brave, resilient 79-year-old member, we rid her home of repeated bedbug infestations and -- more recently – I supported her as she underwent radiation and chemotherapy treatments. 

Or, the case of 95-year-old Helen, whose dementia and episodes of wandering had alienated her family – except for her grandson, John. John loyally struggled to care for Helen, then broke down in tears and needed much consolation when his grandmother finally moved to a nursing home with a dementia unit, for her own safety.

I feel honored and humbled to be acknowledged by my dedicated co-workers, and feel grateful for their indescribably warm, helpful support.  I have been a social worker for three decades, but the past several years spent on the VNSNY CHOICE team in Staten Island have made me wish that I joined this organization long ago.

Superstorm Sandy has been the latest, unforgettable chapter.  After losing power in my own home in Staten Island, I volunteered to help out at the evacuation center at Tottenville High School.  Among the evacuees there, I was surprised to find my member, Dorothy, and her husband, Henry. Their home was so damaged by flooding that its foundation cracked, and it was uninhabitable.  Dorothy has multiple co-morbidities, including dementia and hypertension. She has suffered a stroke, needs oxygen 24/7 due to chronic COPD, and is in a wheelchair.  Until just a few months ago, her husband and primary caregiver, Henry, was an adjunct professor of finance at NYU. Now he is undergoing chemotherapy for Hodgkin’s lymphoma.  The Red Cross and clinicians at the evacuation center were managing to keep Dorothy and Henry medically stable, in spite of the extraordinary circumstances, but no immediate/safe plan was in place once the shelters began to consolidate.  

Once I found Dorothy and Henry, I checked in with them nearly every day. Extensive rounds of negotiations began, with various agencies and facilities, with the couple themselves, and with their sons in New Jersey and Staten Island. One of their sons is disabled, and both were going through their own problems in the wake of the hurricane. Several days went by, and the best outcome I could obtain, to keep the couple from being transferred to yet another evacuation center, was to get Dorothy admitted into a long-term care facility. However, the couple refused to be separated, even temporarily! Just when it looked as though moving Dorothy by herself could not be avoided, their son Michael succeeded in getting them a new apartment in Staten Island. Since then, I have made a number of visits to their new home, to ensure that their needs are being met. 

After all the destruction and pain that Hurricane Sandy has wrought in our area, our city, and my Staten Island, I barely have words to say how meaningful it has been to use my training and experience to help members like Dorothy and Henry come through this ordeal safe, alive, and together.   As you know, some other vulnerable people in our community were not so lucky.

I will never forget the ordeal that I shared and the help I was able to provide to Dorothy, Henry and their family – for in all our communities, there are so often complicated, complex issues which impede upon a safe care plan.  This experience will surely stack up among the most memorable experiences of my life.

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