Rush University to study role of social workers in preventing rehospitalizations of seniors

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Social workers, not nurses, could be better suited at preventing rehospitalizations among the elderly. That is what a new Rush University Medical Center study seeks to prove.

For the last two years, Rush has been conducting a program designed to transition older patients from the hospital to their homes. While patient satisfaction with the program has been generally high, university officials say it's time to begin evaluating the effectiveness of the program at reducing the rate of rehospitalizations within 30 days of discharge.

The Rush program is unique in that it employs social workers to oversee a patient's discharge plan, rather than a nurse. According to Rush researchers, up to 50% of rehospitalizations are the result of social issues or lack of community services, and social workers are the ideal candidate to navigate these problem areas. Social workers can also determine a patient's potential for rehospitalization by evaluating family dynamics and other personal factors, they say.

If the study proves the effectiveness of social workers as post-hospitalization care coordinators, the Rush program could serve as a model for reform. Rehospitalizations affect roughly 20% of older patients, often lead to a nursing home stay, and cost roughly $12 billion per year to the Medicare program, according to recent studies.