When older adults and their family members have questions, social workers can be a great resource! Lutheran Senior Services has a whole team of social workers committed to sharing their knowledge and expertise to help others navigate the aging journey. Shawn Riley, Director of Social Services at Laclede Groves, a Lutheran Senior Services Life Plan Community in Webster Groves, Missouri, shares what it’s like.
“It’s about taking time to hear what their concerns are. Often no one has done that. They’ve taken Mom to the doctor’s office and gotten medical information. But who do they talk things through with? That’s what we do,” he said.
LSS Social Workers help residents and their families to access services and understand processes, like managing Medicaid paperwork. In his role, Shawn not only supervises LSS Social Workers, he also provides direct service himself.
The most rewarding part of his role is easing the stress for residents and their families as they are navigating the uncertain waters of life transitions. “Often residents are very stressed when they come to me. By educating them and walking them through the process, I can see a weight lift off their shoulders,” said Shawn.
Education is a way of life for Shawn. In addition to his role at LSS, he also teaches at Washington University in St. Louis. His programs focus on how to do assessments and analysis of communities and connect them with resources. He works to connect practicum students with LSS residents and families so they can experience that the role of Social Worker isn’t just at a desk, writing notes. It is relating with and learning from others.
While many of his students earning a Social Work degree may set their sights elsewhere, he believes there are great career opportunities in the aging field. “The ‘Silver Swell’ is coming so we will have a lot of older adults moving into communities and needing these services,” said Shawn.
Working with older adults and their families provides many rewarding opportunities. “When you’re interacting with older adults and their families, there’s a lot of opportunity for providing education. And you can gain life lessons from an older generation. It’s not just case management.”
An important facet of working with older adults is understanding how to best support those who are living with dementia or other cognitive challenges. “Just because an individual is living with dementia doesn’t mean they can’t advocate in their own way,” he said. He works to connect with each person and identify their wishes and needs, while also meeting the needs of their caregivers.
“Families come to us looking for the best ways to handle transitions. ‘Mom is moving to a new level and we don’t know how to tell her,’ ‘Mom doesn’t remember who I am,’ ‘Mom is mad at us.’ Taking time to hear these concerns matters. Taking time to hear concerns builds trust,” said Shawn. He and his team of Social Workers walk families through the process of dementia, so they understand what is happening, often finding a support group to help.
“I had a resident move in a week ago. The resident loves it here. But her daughter is struggling. So, we are here to help that daughter, too,” he said.
Looking for a career at LSS using your Social Work skills? Visit https://www.lssliving.org/job-opportunities/.