Social Work in the Public Eye (May 2010)

Natasha SingerNatasha Singer was quoted in the Oneonta Daily Star in a story about healthy ways to cope with grief in response to unexpected deaths in the community that made news.

Singer is a bereavement counselor with Catskill Area Hospice and Palliative Care. She said when people and communities experience a tragic loss it leaves them stunned.

“The rational mind just can’t get around it,” Singer said in the article. “They question why it happened and need to express their despair.”

Cataclysmic events including earthquakes, tsunamis and floods leave people feeling vulnerable, the story explained.

“It seems like the world has turned upside down and that leaves people with heightened anxiety,” said Singer, a licensed clinical social worker and credentialed alcoholism and substance abuse counselor.

Singer noted that her hospice office offers grief support groups and has grief counselors available to help people cope with all types of grief. “Loss is ongoing in our communities, but the losses don’t all make the front page for a week,” Singer said. “We encourage people to seek support if they are having a difficult time adjusting to a loss. They should talk to a friend or to a counselor or to the clergy.”

Singer said sometimes it is helpful for people to go outside of their family system, because the entire family can often get caught up in the grief.

She said people cope best by acknowledging their feelings.

“It is common for people to feel numb, in shock, confused,” she said. “Grief is felt both physically and mentally. Try to get a good night’s sleep, and eat well-balanced meals, even if you don’t feel like eating.”

Singer added that it is important for people to allow themselves to cry and feel stress, but they should try to balance it with things they enjoy doing, like going to a movie or watching a favorite television show.

“Finding balance is the key,” Singer said. “Spending time with others and spending time alone, taking time to laugh and time to cry.”

Jennifer MarszalekJennifer Marszalek was quoted in the Advocate in Massachusetts about Community Nurse & Hospice Care and its Caring Tree grief support program for local children and their families. The Caring Tree is structured to provide nurturing and healing to children ages 6-18 and their families after the loss of a loved one.

The program is adapted from the Boston Medical Center’s highly acclaimed “Good Grief Program,” according to the article. The Caring Tree at Community Nurse & Hospice began as a weekend camp for children and families and then as a weekly grief support group.

Marszalek, bereavement coordinator at Community Nurse & Hospice Care, said, “The death of a loved one is a difficult loss for a child. Sometimes parents and caregivers are struggling with their own grief and need to have the tools to help their child while coping with their own emotions.”

Participants work with three groups facilitated by clinical social workers: one for adults and caregivers, one for adolescents and one for children, the story explained. Adults learn ways to heal their own grief and to learn valuable tools to help nurture their children. Teens and young children join in group support sessions, which include writing letters to their deceased loved one, writing in their journals, reading stories related to loss and healing, and making collages and remembrance beads. “The positive feedback from The Caring Tree each year is more than we could have ever imagined,” Marszalek said. “I hear from families that The Caring Tree exceeded their expectations.”

Sherry SaturnoSherry Saturno was profiled in The Journal News of New York state in a story about her work in social services.

The story pointed out she is the director of social services at Sprain Brook Manor, a nursing home and rehabilitation center in the Edgemont section of Greenburgh, N.Y.

She has been named Social Worker of the Year by the Westchester Division of NASW, the article explained.

Saturno started her career as a social worker at a free mental health clinic in Harlem, helping patients who were often homeless or formerly incarcerated. She later worked as a social worker at a Brooklyn charity for two years before taking a turn in her career path to focus on elderly health care in Westchester.

Before coming to Sprain Brook Manor in July, Saturno was a social worker at a nursing home in Beacon, and she was the director of social services for nursing homes in Croton-on-Hudson and Briarcliff Manor.

Saturno said she wanted her work to have a meaningful impact on older people after seeing her own parents become seniors. Her once independent 70-year-old father was briefly hospitalized after collapsing last year, the story explained.

“The experience of seeing someone who has always been so vital and active in the hospital, hooked up to machines, was profoundly difficult,” Saturno was quoted as saying.

“When you have a loved one who is struggling with a medical condition, as a family member you feel like you have no control over their health,” she added. “You will also worry about the impact of this condition on other family members’ well-being, as I did with my mother.”

She continued, “I try to always remember what families must be going through when their parents are admitted ... and keep in mind the anxiety they experience, so I can better offer support.”

The story pointed out that social workers frequently work with clients who may be marginalized in some way through poverty, disability, abuse, addiction or age.

“Social workers empower clients to see beyond the limits of those circumstances and believe in themselves, which for many clients may be the first time that anyone has ever believed in them or offered any support,” she said. “Seniors may be dealing with feelings of fear, feelings of loss. We try to help them see — regardless if they were living in the community and now in the nursing home — they can still have an engaging, stimulating life.”

Sprain Brook Manor administrator Aldo Troiani said in the article that Saturno handles a complex workload well.

“The type of work she provides is peace and ease of mind to people who have dealt with catastrophic illnesses,” he said. “It takes a special kind of person to help ease the pain and transition.”