August 29, 2022

The Role of Social Workers in Improving the Health of People Receiving Medicaid

written by
Sadiq Patel
The Role of Social Workers in Improving the Health of People Receiving Medicaid

This month, Dr. Sadiq Patel MSW PhD, a Waymark Data Scientist, describes his experience as a clinical social worker and the unique opportunities social workers have to improve the lives of people receiving Medicaid.

I began my career as a clinical social worker at an American Indian mental health center in Detroit. I provided behavioral health care to low-income patients covered by Medicaid, across a range of health conditions–from heroin addiction, to childhood sexual trauma, domestic violence, depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and suicidality. Prior to each meeting, I would perform a ‘smudge’–the American Indian spiritual practice of burning sage to cleanse the soul–alongside my patients, and would often facilitate the Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous groups to celebrate sobriety and renew commitments to sobriety. Many of my patients would share anecdotes of the abuse and trauma they had experienced in American Indian boarding schools. They would explain that understanding how their historical trauma contributed to their own addictions helped them maintain their sobriety. Through these experiences, I learned a lot about resilience.

The experiences of patients taught me to reflect on my own history. Like many social workers, my personal experiences fueled my desire to pursue a Master’s degree in social work. I was raised in a low-income, single-parent household. My mother—a high school educated, South Asian immigrant—worked two minimum wage jobs to support us. In high school, I worked every day to help pay the bills, yet we still faced financial burden and the emotional distress that often accompanied it. We also received government support for housing, school meals, college tuition, and health care, which helped, but was often insufficient. Our challenges taught me first-hand the complexities of navigating a disjointed social welfare system, and the lack of social and behavioral health support for low-income families.

I ended up luckier than many of my patients, who suffered from chronic illnesses including diabetes and heart disease, likely due to the lack of affordable nutritious foods in their communities. They experienced food, housing, and job insecurity, sometimes forgoing electricity for a month to pay for groceries. Fixing these systemic issues, in addition to providing high quality behavioral health care, seemed insurmountable to me and my social work colleagues, and often left us experiencing burnout. I often wondered how coordinating medical and behavioral health care, in conjunction with social welfare supports, could improve our patients’ health–and whether technology and data science could further enhance coordination.  

This is why I joined Waymark. At Waymark, social workers are uniquely positioned to enhance patient outcomes and thereby improve Medicaid.

How social workers at Waymark can improve the health of people receiving Medicaid

  • Historically, social workers have been particularly adept at adopting new technologies to enhance care for underserved patients. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, social workers had the highest rates of telemedicine use compared to other medical and behavioral health clinicians. At Waymark, social workers have a unique opportunity to directly inform our technology and data science infrastructure, by collaborating with engineering and data science teams devoted to redesigning how communication and data sharing infrastructure is developed, how interventions are chosen, and how lessons are learned and shared across our team. It’s one reason I pursued a career in data science after social work, and I find it unique that other people at Waymark have experience both as clinicians or patients themselves, and as analysts of healthcare data or operators of healthcare programs.

  • Social workers at Waymark work as part of a team of community health workers, pharmacists, and care coordinators to best serve our Medicaid patients in collaboration with their primary care providers. A multi-disciplinary team was intentionally created to prevent social workers from feeling “alone” in coordinating care for patients. As part of our patients’ care coordination, we navigate our patients through social welfare support services for food, housing, and employment. The joint coordination efforts allow our social workers to focus on providing high quality behavioral health care for our patients. We also cherish the approach of working where we are most needed, not redundant or stepping on toes; if there are already other social workers on a case, our protocols and technologies direct us to tightly communicate and coordinate, rather than try to take over care–and redirect our focus on clinics and patients that lack access.

  • At Waymark, members of all teams–from business development to data science to operations–have extensive experience working to serve low-income communities across the United States. Our joint experiences enhance a social workers’ ability to advocate for patients, create policies and procedures to improve patient care coordination, and implement social justice initiatives. The environment helps a social worker feel supported, as all team members work together to advocate for our patients. And because our financing model allows us to avoid “fee for service” billing that focuses on visits (being financed instead to serve an entire community of patients), we’re free to focus on good communication and service to the patient–not on completing forms for fee-for-service billing purposes.

Waymark continues to actively recruit social workers and licensed therapists to focus on behavioral health services for patients receiving Medicaid. If you’d like to consider joining our team, see our openings here.