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The Ombudsman's Report for April 2023

The Role of the Social Worker in Long Term Care Settings

by Kathleen Heren, Rhode Island's Long Term Care Ombudsman

Kathleen Heren

Last month (March) was National Social Workers Month. I hope the first name you memorize when admitting a resident to a Long Term Care Facility is your social worker's name. This individual is required to be able to handle everything from the admission agreement to consoling a family member who has just lost a loved one. The importance of a social worker's position makes them a vital member of that facility in being available for all challenging situations that arise in a day. As a Long Term Care Nurse, I still hear the words, "let the social worker handle it." Let's examine some of what is required of them.

  1. They Identify resources that will benefit a resident's quality of life.

  2. They work with residents and families, such as settling family feuds between siblings or the resident's Advanced Directives being executed.

  3. Oh yes, care plan meetings and, my favorite, holding meetings between family members who have disrupted the facility with aggressive behaviors.

  4. Discharge planning- This requires making certain that residents who return home have the correct services in place.

Rhode Island Nursing Homes are always contacting the Ombudsman office looking for competent social workers to hire. The shelf life of some social workers is short. If the social worker finds themself in a facility violating residents' rights or not supporting them, it won't be long before the worker leaves.

The social worker is also the resident's advocate. A good social worker will speak out if they see staff abusing a resident and the facility does not deal with an abusive employee, they will lose their social worker license.

Social work is often a thankless job

A social worker must have a bachelor's degree in social work. A social worker with a Masters’ degree is also beneficial. In the case of training, for better or worse, it’s on-the-job training. How good that training is will depend on the trainer is.

The social worker is required to be licensed by the States Department of Health, just as a nurse or physician. This license is also susceptible to being removed if the worker violates the Code of Ethics. Their profession also requires them to be proficient in cultural competency.

We have become a society that has many elders from different countries, different religions, and, last but not least, a large LBGTQ population. Again, I would ask you to go out of your way to find out who your Social Worker is. Make sure you acknowledge them and all their hard work when you see them.

Like most Medical positions, the social worker's job can be thankless, but you will also hear how happy they are to do it. For more information, you can contact Rhode Island College, which has turned out excellent social workers for years. On behalf of the Ombudsman office and myself, thank you for all you do.


Kathleen Heren

Rhode Island State Long Term Care Ombudsman

Office of the RI State Long Term Care Ombudsman Program

Alliance for Better Long Term Care Inc

422 Post Road Suite 204

Warwick, RI 02888



Ms. Heren provides a monthly guest blog to Connelly Law Offices, Ltd., where she discusses issues and topics that come across her desk as the Rhode Island State Long Term Care Ombudsman. The opinions expressed in our guest blogs are only those of the author(s). They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of Attorney RJ Connelly III or the employees of Connelly Law Offices, Ltd.

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