Q&A with UHN social worker Laurel Franks

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The magic of caring for others in crisis: Q&A with UHN social worker Laurel Franks

As a social worker in Toronto Western Hospital’s COVID unit, Laurel Franks says there is no such thing as a typical day. Working with an interdisciplinary medical team, Laurel addresses patient needs from the beginning through to the end of their hospital stay, and even making plans for discharge. “I work to find a way to really balance their psycho-social needs. Sorting their home care, preparing them for isolation and compiling applications for their rehabilitation hospital admissions after they have been in the ICU for a month.” It’s an all-hands-on-deck approach she credits as something she feels University Health Network (UHN), where she’s worked for more than four years, reinforces and supports.

Through the challenges and fears she’s faced over the last year, Laurel has found the highs and lows of working amidst the pandemic to be a game-changing chapter of her career as a caretaker. We spoke to Laurel to discuss her experience on the frontlines, including her biggest motivators and sources of hope. 

As a social worker, how did you land in the healthcare sector? 

I grew up on a First Nations Reserve, where the closest health care to my family was 45 minutes away. With two parents who worked in health care, I was inherently exposed to the passion of caring for others growing up—not to mention the challenges of living rurally and receiving adequate resources. Personally, there was something about caring for the person versus the body that drew me to social work. While studying for my Masters, I was placed into St. Michael’s Toronto Neurosurgery unit. Though I was terrified to start, I saw very quickly the magic of caring for others in a crisis. I honestly haven’t looked back since. The gratification in entering someone’s worst nightmare and being a part of their healing story is why I show up to work every day. 

How has UHN built an environment of resilience during such a challenging time? 

I have never been so proud to be part of a team. Specifically, the management of the COVID ward has been impeccable. On a micro level, leadership has been compassionate and strong. On a macro level, we’ve had directors drop by for check-ins and to provide support and thanks. During those moments of visibility, it meant so much. The culture at UHN has been a big part of what’s kept me motivated and resilient. Additionally, the role of an interdisciplinary team working together at UHN is an incredibly valuable thing. So many of us come from different disciplines to discuss and plan patient aid. It makes a difference in the quality of our care.

Can you tell me about a particular encounter during the pandemic that has stayed with you?

There have been a couple encounters where I’ve been sitting and chatting with someone one day and have them pass the next, or move to the ICU very quickly. One thing that always sticks with me is the feeling after the cleaners raise the beds when they flip a room and leave the bed raised up before it’s filled again. There is nothing that sticks with me more than walking into the unit and seeing a raised bed like that where my patient was just 24 hours ago. 

What do you hope participants of the Give A Shift event take away from their experience? 

Whether on a personal or professional level, it can be really hard to explain what you do as a healthcare provider. It’s been extra hard this past year, so bringing attention to that and naming itself will be helpful for healthcare workers. Let’s normalize that it’s okay to feel what so many of us are feeling right now. If it inspires people to take extra safeguards to prevent COVID, that’s of course a huge bonus. It’s also a fantastic opportunity to fundraise for research and education at care at UHN. I hope they take away a sense of understanding. 

If you want to show your support for healthcare workers, register (as an individual or team) or donate directly to Give A Shift online at giveashift.ca. The virtual event takes place April 29 to May 2, 2021.