Shining a Light on Social Work Month
Shining a Light on Social Work Month
How one Board-Certified Case Manager incorporates his expertise in the field
Featuring: Michael J. Demoratz, LCSW, CCM, PhD
People don’t always understand what exactly it is that social workers do. The common conception of this essential role is often filtered through a lens of television, movies, and the nightly news, and it revolves around the types of aid provided by social workers in the Department of Social Services (DSS) — things like SNAP benefits, homelessness prevention, and child support services.
In reality, while joining the DSS is one path a social worker might take, the field itself encapsulates a wide range of careers, and they all share some things in common: social work, in one way or another, is about connecting people to resources and providing emotional support. And these linchpins of the profession are shared by case managers as well.
“It’s crucial that case managers educate the consumer very quickly about what they do. Whether we’re social workers, nurses, or any other discipline that is involved in case management, we have to explain to people how we can be helpful and how we can be an advocate for our patients so that we get their needs met,” said Michael J Demoratz, LCSW, CCM, PhD, a Hospice Social Worker at MemorialCare Hospice and Palliative Services at Saddleback Medical Center in Southern California and a Commissioner on the Commission for Case Manager Certification (CCMC®).
Demoratz worked as a phlebotomist in college, then opted for a career in social work after being told he spent too much time talking to his patients to be a good physician. He grew up on a farm, where, he said, death was personal. “Animals were slaughtered, and there was a purpose for it. And when people got old and died, we weren’t shielded from that; it was a part of life.”
This early experience of participating closely in the final days and hours of multiple grandparents and great-grandparents helped guide him to the end-of-life and senior care he has undertaken for the past 39 years. His work in acute care in particular appeals to him as he guides family members through the crisis of the death of a relative. It’s an intense environment, but he is able to perform the essential services of social work by aiding them with both resources and emotional support.
The Value of Certification
Working in a hospital, as Demoratz does, entails interacting not just with patients but with a vast array of certified professionals. Being a Board-Certified Case Manager (CCM®) can help social workers and case managers signal to their colleagues that they are members of a specialized profession, complete with continuing education (CE) and credentialing.
“What CCM means to me as a social worker is that I have a certification that legitimizes the very difficult work and challenges that we face on a daily basis with the people that we serve,” said Demoratz. “And I’m proud of that certification.”
The “CCM” that appears on Demoratz’s business card also connects him with a network of others who have pursued the certification — when another CCM sees those letters, it brings an instant sense of camaraderie and knowledge of the validity of Demoratz’s credentials.
Demoratz is far from being the lone social worker involved with CCMC. The current Chair of the Commission, Jared Young, Psy.D., CAADC, LCSW, CCM, is also a licensed social worker, and Demoratz finds that increasing numbers of social workers are showing an interest in pursuing case management work in their hospital environments, because the social worker perspective offers an intrinsic value to the field.
“Social workers who are CCMs are really gigantic assets to their organizations,” Demoratz said. “Because social workers are process-oriented, rather than task-oriented, we have no boxes to check off. Instead, we are constantly processing new information and incorporating it into the old information we already have, which provides a fuller picture of any given patient’s situation.”
The Time Is Right for Social Work
Showing your patients and colleagues your professionalism and commitment to your work is especially important during times of upheaval. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, hospitals have been stretched to the breaking point since early 2020, and everyone needs as much support as they can possibly get.
“The emotional well-being of the population of the country is really at stake, because we have been through something horrific,” said Demoratz. “And it has been as bad for myself as it has been for the people I work with. As a professional, it’s hard to say that you’ve been an emotional wreck at times, but I’m honest. I get tearful about what’s going on.”
As traumatic as it is, this is when social workers do their best work and offer the most value to their clients and communities. In January 2021, 100 of Demoratz’s own patients died. On just one day, five of his patients were terminally extubated, meaning they came off their ventilators. They had been in isolation, but now their family was finally allowed to be present. Each of them died within 10 or 15 minutes.
“The last two years have been incredibly hard on the people who are experiencing this firsthand,” Demoratz said. But whether he has been helping families arrange home hospice care, aiding in making funeral arrangements, or even facilitating the process of transporting a family member who died of COVID-19 to another country, Demoratz has been integral to guiding innumerable families through an experience that is devastating at the best of times, much less during a pandemic.
And he is not the only one. All medical professionals have been under an enormous amount of strain, and this is of course just as applicable to social workers as it is to anyone else. The National Association of Social Workers (NASW), which provides professional support to social workers, celebrates Social Work Month every March to honor social workers and their profession for their contributions to society. The theme for 2022 is “The Time is Right for Social Work,” and that couldn’t be more true. Millions of people are grieving the loss of a loved one, and millions more are still grappling with the many ways in which the pandemic has upended their lives. In the face of that, there is an enormous need for the supportive services provided by social workers, not just in hospitals and other areas of medical care, but throughout society.
Where Social Work Is Headed
The profession of social work is over 100 years old, and social work is woven intrinsically into the fabric and the history of case management. Social workers have been integral to the care of clients from the settlement houses of the 19th century right through the pandemic of the 21st. In addition to addressing the social determinants of health, they are also instrumental in social action, driving society forward particularly in the area of health equity.
“I look back on my long career, and I have no regrets,” said Demoratz. “Clients don’t realize how difficult some life experiences can be. As a social work case manager involved in end-of-life care, I am there to help them through these times. There’s honor in being that resource.”