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'I Feel Like I Can Make a Difference:' Rachel Vannatta Reflects on Job as ER Social Worker

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Rachel Vannatta, LMSW in an ER room at Finley Hospital.

As patients come through the door of the emergency room at UnityPoint Health – Finley Hospital, they are often needing medical care for a health-related emergency, such as stroke or heart attack symptoms, stomach pains, broken bones, and other issues. 

However, there is a group of people who need additional assistance beyond what our medical staff and nurses can provide to the patient, such as getting set up with care placement or inpatient treatment, learning about available resources in the community, undergoing a psychosocial assessment, and being supported through traumatic events, such as domestic violence or alcohol and substance abuse. 

The bridge between the compassionate care team in the emergency room and resources is Rachel Vannatta, LMSW, a social worker based in the emergency room at Finley Hospital. In the emergency department, staff work together to support the patients, while also collaborating with social work to provide resources. 

In her role, Rachel experiences a variety of different situations with patients, yet aims to provide them with the best possible outcome. 

“We get a lot of different things in the emergency room,” Rachel said. “Our goal is really to assist with providing the patient a level of safety and getting their personal needs met, physically, financially, or emotionally. This might be the only safe spot they have.” 

One specific focus for Rachel in the emergency room is connecting patients with viable treatment options for those struggling with brain health or addiction. Sometimes, that connection may include inpatient treatment, counseling, or outpatient therapy. 

In those situations, Rachel begins with a psychosocial assessment to further identify and understand the patient’s needs and behaviors. 

“We will start with a psychosocial assessment to identify what the patient’s needs are,” Rachel said. “While we don’t provide substance abuse or in-house therapy, we are able to set up therapy right from the emergency room by utilizing our community organizations and referring patients to those services.”

As a social worker, one of Rachel’s primary jobs is to connect patients with available resources within the community. 

By working directly with patients in the emergency room setting, Rachel believes patients can receive numerous benefits on their way to recovery. 

“Our goal is to keep patients safe by offering them services and treatment options,” Rachel said. “We assist with safety concerns and offer services and options to meet their immediate needs and assist them with successfully returning to the community.” 

In an emergency room setting, medical care often needs to be collaborative, which is the case among social work. 

Throughout her experience in the emergency room, Rachel has appreciated working with a care team who accepts her and values her field of expertise in social work. 

“It is a patient-centered approach in the emergency room,” Rachel said. “I feel very supported in my role, because we all want the best outcomes for our patients. This role allows me to help others and be challenged, which allows me to continue growing as a social worker.”

Prior to her current role in the emergency department, Rachel spent 10 years being an inpatient social worker, which provides social work services to patient care units. Additionally, Rachel is part of Finley Hospital’s Care Management Program. The goal of the program is to help patients’ manage their health and achieve their goals, which can improve readmission rates back into the hospital.

Throughout her career, Rachel has received bits of affirmation from former patients and team members that have confirmed her calling to be in social work. 

“Every patient we work with in the emergency room, we can have an impact on, whether that’s getting them placed for a higher level of care or setting up treatment,” Rachel said. “I’ve had patients come back to me after finishing treatment to let me know they’ve reached sobriety. I feel like I can make a difference, which is important in the line of social work.”

To learn more about emergency care at Finley Hospital, visit this link.