In thinking about her social work career, Lauren Clark states: “I have always been drawn to working with vulnerable populations, those who often do not have anyone to advocate on their behalf and those who have challenges accessing services to meet their needs.” Lauren Clark, MSW, RSW, is a social worker in the Medicine Department of The Ottawa Hospital (TOH), where her primary roles are providing support to patients and their families/caregivers and facilitating discharge planning. In addition, she has been an active member of the Medical Assistance in Dying (MAID) Team at TOH since its inception in 2016, acting as Lead Social Worker for this group. She is also the Regional Lead Social Worker with the Champlain Regional MAID Network (pilot project, winter 2019). As well, Lauren sits on the Board of Directors for Bridge C-14, a national organization for those with lived experience with MAID. She is being recognized by OASW as an Inspirational Leader during Social Work Week, which is celebrated March 4-10, 2019, under the theme: “From everyday issues to complex needs: Social Workers, it’s what we do”.
Lauren Clark is passionate and proud of her work with MAID: “Each experience in which I witness the struggle of life and death has left me with a deep sense of how fragile, yet resilient, individuals truly are. I value self-determination, quality of life and empowering individuals to find meaning and purpose in their lives. I believe in facilitating a journey of discovery and hope for individuals; to help them find within themselves, their caregivers and their community the strength and understanding to effectively deal with the difficulties that arise as a result of their illness and decision to access MAID.” She adds: “MAID is, by far, one of the most complex areas of practice that I have been involved in. The impact of the decision for someone to access the service has a ripple effect that extends beyond the death itself, for the individual, family, community and healthcare team. Social work support is pivotal in assessing and addressing the everyday issues and complex needs of all individuals involved. Although considerations are made in advance to alleviate the impact of psychosocial issues, they remain an inherent part of the MAID journey and can impact on the ability for loved ones to cope following the death.”
Pleasantly surprised by the growth in this area of practice, Lauren is excited by the future possibilities for social workers in MAID, and inspired by those around her working tirelessly to fulfill the last wishes of the patient, allowing them to have choice and control over their death. She states: “My involvement in MAID would not have been possible without the courage of a patient who quietly asked me one day to be there with her as she set to embark on her MAID journey almost three years ago. I am pleased that Social Work has been included in all procedures completed in our hospital since and is a highly respected service on the TOH MAID Team.” Lauren’s other achievements include the development of a psychosocial assessment tool which is now being used at TOH (and adapted in various forms nationally), as well as educating other health professionals and the general public. She has participated in local and national conferences as an advocate for social work in MAID and currently has a submission under review for publication.
Lauren states that some of the challenges in doing this work are periodic emotional drain and clearing up any misinformation or misconceptions that people have regarding the topic and/or the role of social work in MAID. To overcome some of these challenges, she places a strong emphasis on implementing self-care and resiliency strategies into her daily routine: “Through MAID I have a much greater understanding of the human spirit and its capacity to find meaning and hope even in moments of despair; this allows me to continue doing this challenging work.” She also prioritizes supervision and consultation with peers regarding their roles in MAID, and she reaches out to provide support, guidance and collaboration along the way. Additionally, she accepts any and all invitations to participate in conversations about MAID, in particular about the role of social workers: “I could talk about MAID all day if you let me!”
Access to supports for loved ones has been identified as a challenge as well. Lauren notes that despite the tremendous support that social workers provide, it is important to recognize that MAID is still a new frontier and there is much work to be done to improve the accessibility and delivery of these services. While there are a handful of organizations with MAID-specific supports, private counselling and even services through community health centres can be limited or inaccessible due to cost, geographic location or fear of stigmatization. As a result, she is in the process of developing a grief and bereavement resource booklet for patients and families. She has also created a resource booklet for healthcare professionals, who do not have the full complement of a MAID Team, on how to address the psychosocial needs of individuals and their loved ones. As well, she recently worked with OASW to host a webinar for social workers across the province to find ways to connect with one another to discuss MAID.
In Lauren’s view, leaders have the desire, ambition and drive to create change and guide others to work towards a common goal: “Inspirational leaders seek to learn from others, not just teach, and value input from team members thereby establishing an environment for continuous improvement. They create a place where individuals are celebrated. They work from a framework that great things are never accomplished by just one person; it takes a team to reach our greatest potential. They are optimistic, patient and driven. They are able to identify problems, find solutions, make difficult decisions, advocate, motivate and empower team members.”
Lauren Clark is an inspirational leader in the social work community – innovative, optimistic, empowering. During Social Work Week, March 4-10, 2019, and throughout the year, take the time to acknowledge social workers who make a difference.
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