Stewards of social work

Social work interns provide customer service in the long-term care (LTC) facility. They might not use such descriptors—I wasn’t taught to in my clinical social work graduate studies. But their role should be seen through a lens of customer service as a way to promote overall positive service outcomes. 

Social work interns are educated in a core curriculum that is, arguably, fundamental for effective customer service: individualized or tailored appreciation for the involved clientele, orientation toward the use of families for developing assessments and interventions, the use of a strict ethical code for conducting business, intrinsic cognizance for the functionality of departmental systems and team work. Additionally, social workers are apt employees in workplaces that are often bereft of resources.

Social work interns are, at their most effective, an unbiased and dutiful receptacle for all the goings-on associated with the LTC facility and significant agents for the proper implementation of customer service objectives.

Despite a pressing need within LTC facilities, there is a question of just how to use social work interns. I have personally and professionally observed the intern hiring process as either (1) more trouble than it is worth, or, (2) a simple means of hiring unpaid employees who are effective filers, paper shredders and message-takers. As a social work professional and administrator interested in both professional and systems development, I have designated strategic positions where social work interns can effectively serve as customer service specialists. Here are three ways interns can contribute across facility departments.      

Admission liaisons

Initial engagement is a critical interview skill. While the interns exist as students-in-training, they will present a desire to form a strong worker and client relationship with prospective families and/or residents.

Customer service begins the moment a prospective resident displays interest in placement. Therefore, having social work interns schedule and give facility tours, disseminate service information and interface with clients from a stance of rapport-building while completing the admissions packet ensures two significant facets of effective customer service: timely implementation of in-house procedures associated with an admission and a kind, client-centered human interaction during what is likely to be a stress-ridden and anxiety-provoking process.

In my experience, when social work interns are employed within admissions, they behave as a liaison between that department and my own. Information gathered during assessments, including idiosyncrasies and presenting issues, is funneled back to me, their supervisor, and I am able to incorporate this data into my work post-admission. In cases where extraneous factors threatened to compromise an admission, I had insight into the particulars of developing events and was more able to intervene on the resident’s behalf.

Nursing partners

Social workers are trained to conduct social service provisions as a member of an inclusive, multidisciplinary team. As I reflected on my own strong affiliations with nursing supervisors and the director of nurses, I have plugged social work interns alongside nurses who man the floors.

While there are obvious limitations to the specific duties social work interns are permitted to engage in because of contractual mandates and credentials, they function as effective on-the-spot crisis negotiators, information gathers and assessors and, fundamentally, as extensions and auxiliary personnel for the department of social services. Social work interns can effectively serve as an extra set of eyes and ears on the floor.

Allow me to tease this out for a moment with an example. The floor was busy and had both LTC and a small cohort of subacute beds. There was a simultaneous admission and discharge. Census was high and so were the needs of the current residents. Staff pressures were building. There were call-outs. A perfect storm seemed to be brewing

My graduate-level social service intern had her feelers out. She took charge when she determined additional efforts were required for adequate service provision. She contacted the family of the admitting resident and scheduled a time for them to complete much-needed paperwork. She was also able to confirm service provision for the discharging resident. She engaged the nurses from a stance of empathy—embracing the struggle intimately associated with working the floors. This particular intern had the training, but the novelty of her actions as an additional support and interventionist speaks for itself.


State and federal regulations require every LTC facility to have both a resident and family council. Beyond compliance to regulatory bodies stands the need to provide programs that consistently promote positive outcomes. Those must be planned according to the target audience, meeting subject and around any barriers associated with conducting group work within the LTC facility. There are additional services germane to LTC facilities that must also be taken into consideration: grief and loss, staff burnout and retention and in-servicing.

This is a significant stumbling block for most LTC facilities, especially those with a smaller staff or that operate under a for-profit model. As the pressure mounted, and continues to mount by the executive director calling for the facilitation of such groups in my own facility, I turned to social work interns.

Group work is intrinsic to social work values. Social work interns will have educational milestones to reach as part of their contract between the host college and facility, and the facilitation of groups is one such milestone. In the battle of balancing day-to-day service provision with the additional maintenance of peripheral groups, social work interns are great tools.

I have exposed social work interns to best practice standards in grief practice and permitted them to host their own groups after a number of supervised sessions. I found social work interns displayed interest in developing their own groups, such as family support, and that their efforts contributed to the community presence within the facility.

Social work interns are effective promoters of customer service. When plugged into major departments, they can highlight the specific proclivities of individuals trained in professional social work service delivery. When customer service is consistently executed at an individual level, quality of care increases exponentially.

Social work interns are an invaluable asset as they serve to meet service needs that may otherwise be insufficiently brokered because of commonplace stressors associated with running a LTC facility.

Keith Rinier, BSW, MSW, is director of social services at Cortland Place, an 80-bed subacute and long-term care facility in Smithfield, R.I. He can be reached at







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