Through my “Hearts at Work” series, I share the insights of people who inspire me. Today I spoke with Michelle Flynn, LCSW, Director of Case Management at UVa HealthSouth Rehabilitation Hospital in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Elizabeth: What do you enjoy about doing case management at a rehabilitation hospital?
Michelle: We have the luxury of time with our patients. The average length of stay is 14 days, and the HealthSouth corporate model has each case manager see every one of their patients every day. We work with the patient as a whole person, and we include the whole family through meetings and phone calls. The “family”, in a loose sense, might even include amazing friends and neighbors who lend support.
Sometimes the work is dirty, ugly, or messy. Our patients are dealing with conditions beyond their control. But it is rewarding to care for them exactly how they are, wherever they are in their own process.
Elizabeth: Not everyone can do this work. Why are you attracted to it and what keeps you going?
Michelle: First, I come from a faith-based perspective. I believe I was created to serve others. It’s not always easy, but I believe I serve God by serving others, and the opportunity to do so is a gift.
Second, I work with the most amazing staff. They care about our patients and care about each other. If my cup begins to run dry, they fill it up.
Elizabeth: What are the particular challenges of your work?
Michelle: A hospital never closes. We can’t have a shift-work mentality because that patient depends on their case manager to see them through their recovery. Even when things are difficult, we need to keep a positive attitude for our patients, our coworkers, and the families we go home to. Negativity is like a poison, and it’s unfair to spread that.
Elizabeth: What would you like to say to patients and families that come into your care because of an illness or injury?
Michelle: “I want them to trust that we have their best interests at heart every day. Nobody thinks their therapy will be easy, but we still need to ask them to engage in it. We want to see them through to the next stage of their recovery.
I also want families to understand their loved one’s right to self-determination, even if that means watching a loved one make a decision they disagree with. We need to recognize and accept that a patient’s version of “just fine” may not be our version, but it’s “just fine” to them.
Elizabeth: What advice can you give to brand new professionals entering this field?
Michelle: Don’t be afraid to admit a lack of knowledge in an aspect of care that is new to you. When someone offers to teach you something, they are opening themselves to you as a person. When you welcome their input you are forming a relationship which enriches both people.
Also: when things get difficult, find a source of faith that reminds you that everything is connected for the greater good. It could be Christianity or Buddhism or whatever speaks to you, but find your inner source of strength and peace.
Elizabeth: What advice can you give to people who entered the health care field with optimism and a desire to help others, but have become burned-out or discouraged? What do you say to the broken-hearted health care worker?
Michelle: Go see a patient, any patient. Put everything down, even your pen. Just sit, talk, and listen to that patient.
Elizabeth: Put down the pen, because if you’re holding that pen you’re still disconnected.
Michelle: You’re doing a task with that pen. Put down the task. Just sit and talk. For those of us in this field of service, really being with a patient will mend the broken heart. People may think “I don’t have time for that.” I know that for me, I don’t have time to NOT do that.
For more articles like this, see Hearts at Work.