The Essential Role of Social Work at RUSH

Helping patients navigate their health care experience
Helping hands

Often referred to as “empathy” and “cultural” ambassadors, social workers are the backbone of a patient’s experience. To help a patient through their journey and save the medical team precious time, social workers put in dedicated time and effort to understanding a patient’s perspective, values and life history.

“Social workers are trained to see the whole person,” says Walter Rosenberg, director of Social Work and Community Health at Rush University Medical Center. “That ‘systems perspective’ helps us to understand what motivates the patient to recover and how to rally the resources required for that recovery.” 

While social work covers a large swath of categories, especially here at the Medical Center, the larger program is integral to a patient’s health care experience. Here are some ways social workers can help patients. 

Advocacy and navigation 

Navigating and translating you or your loved one’s health care experience can be tiring and overwhelming. Often, it can feel like there is no one there to guide you through this process. That’s where social workers come in. Our team members are expertly trained to help you navigate the complex health care system while also taking the time to get to know you so they can best advocate for your needs, preferences and values.


In a new health care situation, it can often feel like you’re alone, but that’s far from the truth. Social workers are there to bridge the gap between patient and doctor, provide care between differing levels of care such as post-emergency room or post-discharge, and make sure the patient’s needs and wants are represented.

Resources and support 

Finding resources and information to continue your care in an accessible manner can feel daunting. That’s why our social work team will work with you to provide personalized recommendations for services within your community to help with in-home assistance and caregiver support, and connections to essential resources like food, housing, and transportation. 

Inpatient and outpatient services 

Whether you are handling a recent transition back into the community or requiring long-term aid with you or your loved one’s chronic condition, mental health or family dynamics, our social workers can help with both. 

Assist, empower 

Whether it is helping a patients and their families find basic resources in the community or crisis management, social work is a key part of a patient’s journey to a healthy and fulfilling life. Our team works to meet a patient where they are and then assist and empower them.

“It’s easy to assume that a patient or their family has what they need to be compliant with the medical recommendations from the medical team,” says social worker Alexandria Vernasco, LCSW. “But they don’t, so we are tasked with taking a closer look at the entire system in which the patient is living to find solutions and advocate for those most in need of our voices.” 

Social work is embedded in almost every area of Rush, including ambulatory clinics, the emergency department, inpatient units and post-acute levels of care. Most importantly, social work is present at all levels of a patient’s experience to ensure they have access to social work and care management across the continuum.

“Social work often feels like more than a profession as social workers truly rely on their intrinsic motivation to help others,” says Caroline McInerney, LCSW, manager of ambulatory care management. “We are driven by allowing patients to be an expert in their care, removing barriers, and dedicating themselves to helping individuals, families and communities in need.” 

Learn more about our approach to social work and about how social work can help patients.