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A Day In The Life: With Social Worker Penny Smith

Social workers play an integral part of every hospital system. Here at Memorial Hospital of Converse County, Penny Smith is that key person who helps facilitate meeting patients needs even after they leave our hospital. Her job plays a vital role in keeping patients on the road to recovery and making sure they have all of their needs met at home. Penny’s role in planning patient discharges is one with big rewards but also many challenges.​

Arriving at the hospital, Penny sets right to work. Once she walks onto the floor she begins checking on how many patients the hospital has, gets printouts on each one, and works with the business office to do utilization reviews. When asked about how she begins her day, Penny stated, “I start going through and seeing my new patients that came in here, why did they come to the hospital? What was their reason for coming to the hospital? What were they going to need? Just to get a little background before I go talk to them.”

At 10:30 each morning Penny then goes on rounds with the other medical staff. Working with many different specialists to discuss the status of each patient and if they are ready to be discharged. “(We) go over what the status of the patient looks like, are they going to go home yet do we think? We just all go over that every morning with every patient,” Penny stated. Since many of Penny’s patients are elderly, she spends a lot of time working with Medicare and figuring out the best plan of action for the patient based on what they need, and what they are “allowed” to do. She said the hospital does a great job of taking care of the patient no matter what, but insurance can certainly make things difficult at times.

Every week Penny meets with patients and family members to have a care conference and discuss the plan of treatment. She really enjoys working with the elderly especially, but she is very concerned about the elderly population in the surrounding area because of the lack of long-term care facilities. Since a big part of Penny’s job is planning patient discharges, she spends the bulk of her time building relationships within the community to gather resources for the patients once they have been released. Many times their care doesn’t stop when they leave the hospital. Sometimes they need rehabilitation, long-term care, or other facilities and specialists to aid in their overall wellbeing. She said her biggest goal with discharge is, “Making sure we have a safe plan for the patient when they go home. If they need home health, we make sure we have that setup. If they need Meals on Wheels, we make sure that's set up. If they don't have anybody, we need to make sure, okay, then what is the plan?”

When asked about why she became a social worker, she said she was originally going to school for business, but when her grandfather got Alzheimer’s she began having second thoughts. What she was studying wasn’t going to help anyone and she didn’t love it. “My main love was the elderly. So I switched my major and became a social worker,” Penny said. Moving to Wyoming four years ago, she has adjusted to small town living. Finding it both a pleasure and frustration with her job as a social worker. It’s wonderful because she can really get to know her patients and the care team, but it’s a frustration because there aren’t always enough resources to go around. “Here in Wyoming, especially the more rural regions, we don't have a lot of options because home health doesn't operate in certain places, so then you've got to try to figure out, well what are we going to do? That's what's been the hardest thing for me to adjust to here, is it can be limited,” Penny said in regards to her move from Illinois to Wyoming four years ago.

Penny Smith loves her job and finds helping her patients to be very rewarding. The best part of her day is knowing that she helped someone. Conversely, the most challenging part of her job, aside from dealing with insurance companies and Medicare, is when she lacks resources that patients need. Not being able to offer a solution is devastating to Penny but she works very hard to ensure that all of her patients have their needs met, both in the hospital and when they go home.

When asked about her team at the hospital, Penny stated, “I appreciate the nurses, aides, and doctors here at MHCC. I think we have a great group of people who really care about their patients.” When Penny began working with Memorial Hospital three years ago, she became the first social worker the hospital has ever had. Her job to advocate for her patients is a vital role that greatly improves the lives of her patients and their families on a daily basis. Penny said, “You feel like you're helping people, and then they feel a little safer because they know you.”