Over the past few weeks I have gotten to know a great contributor to the world of social work and health technology by the name of Ellen Belluomini. She along with many others has inspired me to create a new monthly OpenPlacement blog special edition called “Featured Healthcare Trailblazers.”
Ellen has created an insightful blog for social workers and health professionals who are beginning to advocate for technological advances called Bridging the Digital Divide in Social Work Practice. As health professionals we are all working towards the same goal to innovate and improve the quality of care. Read on to find out where Ellen’s passion stems from.
How did you get into social work and what is your background?
My love of social work started with an “Introduction to Social Work” course during my sophomore year of college. I have been a social worker ever since, graduating with my BSW in 1988 from the University of Wisconsin – La Crosse and my MSW in 1993 from the University of Illinois in Chicago. I have never looked back. Social work is my passion, more than just a career. The opportunities social work has brought to me fulfill my life purpose. I find it rewarding to be involved on a community level making longer lasting change within systems. Change in the area of nonprofits happens with research. Each program I supervised had a component of research. This research differed from needs assessments to tracking effectiveness of interventions. It is with these outcomes we can address larger societal issues. Technology allowed me to implement these programs, providing data for change.
I have been on committees to address welfare reform in the state of Illinois, assisted advocacy groups for alternate development of plans in psychiatric unit closings, participated in demonstrations regarding the lack of funds for homeless, addressed the diminishing of chemical dependency beds with state representatives, and added to various other advocacy needs in human services. I find service on a macro scale rewarding.
My experience with social service agencies covers a broad range of social problems. My focus over the years has been empowering people as a change agent in the areas of chemical dependency, chronic mental illness, HIV/AIDS, homelessness, mental health, poverty, self-sufficiency and sexual/physical abuse. I have worked in all aspects of a social service agency and a hospital setting. Direct service, therapeutic intervention, discharge case management, program development, fundraising, quality improvement, technology integration, supervision and management are all areas in which I have expertise. I currently have a consultation service, work part time as a therapist in a non-profit private practice as well as instruct at two colleges. Two years ago, I decided to pursue my PhD where I am a quarter away from starting my dissertation on technology in social work education. I hope to continue my consultation business and become a full time social work faculty member encouraging change with new social workers and the field of social work.
Social work offers numerous opportunities to be active. I am grateful for all the opportunities I have been afforded.
Can you share some of your personal pain points in social work?
This is an interesting question. I have two areas of frustration I will focus upon. The first is being able to see a bigger picture of an issue while others are focused on the Band-Aid. Social workers look at problems from a systems perspective. In order to shift the system for positive change, it sometimes takes thinking outside of the box. Not everyone is comfortable with this type of problem solving. When I was on a Welfare Reform Committee for the State of Illinois, many businessmen were focused on jobs and minimal pay. There was no bigger picture of day care, transportation, education, and the other significant issues this population faces. One low paying job would not fix the totality of these issues.
The second area of frustration is the lack of funding for continuing programs. This creates an issue of scarcity for some administrators. There is a lot of funding for new programs, but not for operations. Administrators have to worry that their new advances in programing are sustainable. Funding is a sizable issue for human services. Large agencies have numerous supports in place to fundraise. Smaller agencies struggle. Administrators from these agencies often are responsible for multiple positions just to keep the agency going. Directors need to focus on the larger picture. Funding should support the whole agency.
Your blog on Past, Present and Future of Social Work and Technology presented some progressive ideas. What are your reasons for strong promotion of technology integration into health care?
Our society is integrating technology at an incredible rate. Moore’s law has been around since 1965 and still prevails today. The ability of computer performance doubles every two years. Think of how long it took laptops to become commonplace within the workplace and universities. Remember laptops became easier to use in the late 90’s – early 21st century, compared to now where every student and business person has one. Compare this timeline to the iPad. The iPad was created in 2010. Now we have the iPad 3 and every even low cost tablets only three years later. Social workers need to keep up to date with these advances to be able to advocate for their clients appropriately. Technology is a cultural competence.
Every healthcare provider can use technological advances to deliver services on a completely different level. This is only going to happen when health care support personnel become trained on how to critically think about the uses of technology. IT personnel can create any type of idea, but the key is to integrate the knowledge of the people putting it into practice. I have seen great ideas for technology fall flat because there was not enough input from direct services staff. I was part of a hospital’s integration of a new program for electronic medical records. Being a part of teams creating these systems at other agencies, I could easily see multiple issues the IT developers could not. One example was the field for Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) measures. There were two issues for this field. Nurses were not reminded to enter the information upon intake (where reminders for other issues were present) and there was no way to change the information once it was in the system. DNR measures and contact people do change. IT was able to change these, but there needed to be someone focusing on how people actually practiced versus how the consultants ‘thought’ they practiced.
In what ways can you advise social workers to become leaders in this movement?
Be open to change. Technology is constantly in a state of flux. Become comfortable with knowing “change happens.”
Research and tools are out every day about how to implement technology into social work populations. Become educated in the technological tools you can use with your client populations.
Ask your administrator for training in technology affecting your population and ethics. There are continual updates in these two areas so education should be continual.
Go to workshops involving innovative approaches to client interventions. If they do not integrate technology in the workshop, ask why they don’t.
Keep up-to-date with Google searches, blogs on technology or applications to curate content.
Write your legislators to support funding for technology in research and human services.
Do you know of any tools that aid in case management?
Health Information Technology is being helped along with the mandates of our government. The trick to these upgrades is still sustainability and the increasing costs of IT. Larger social service agencies have Electronic Medical Records which can document outcomes to see if interventions were successful. Become involved in the structure of your Electronic Medical Records and ask for the information you need to be added.
Another area to research is assistive technologies for our client populations. There are so many new advances to health care issues. These can be researched on the Internet. An example of a new program for case managers is e-Caring. This program offers an online software system to help track the health care of loved ones at home. Figure out your specific need and then research it. Chances are someone is developing a tool for it.
What sources do you mainly use to find tips on best practice?
I explore best practices through research engines, search engines, websites, blogs, and curate tools like Scoop.it. Scoop.it identifies the areas I am interested and gives me an update daily on new innovations, information on specific topics or best practices. It is great to have the work done for you, especially if you are a busy person.
Finally, who are some current leaders in health technology you look up to?
I don’t know if there is any one leader to look up to, there are so many innovators approaching health technology from diverse angles. Many of these future thought leaders’ solutions can spark creativity for all social service agencies and their personnel.
Here is a great article on Health IT Leaders: 20 Health IT Leaders Who AreDriving Change
To hear more of Ellen’s insights on healthcare and technology integration, please attend our next hashtag #dpcomm tweet chat scheduled for June 27, 2013 @ 1:30PM EST (10:30AM PST) with Ellen Belluomini (@EBelluomini). The #dpcomm participants and our LinkedIn group – Discharge Planning Community for Healthcare Professionals & Social Workers aim to create awareness and real solutions for improving care transitions. Our chat is held every fourth Thursday of the month. Note that the May tweet chat has been postponed until June.
If you know someone who has broken the mold of a healthcare worker role and think should be featured, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or please post in the comments section.
Also join our LinkedIn group to continue the conversation:
Discharge Planning Community for Healthcare Professionals & Social Workers
About Ellen M. Belluomini
Ellen M. Belluomini, LCSW received her MSW from University of Illinois, Jane Addams School of Social Work and is currently a doctoral student at Walden University. She is an educator at National Louis University and Harper College. She has developed online and blended curriculum with an emphasis on integrating technology into human services practice. She writes a blog “Bridging the Digital Divide in Social Work Practice” to increase awareness about technology’s uses. She presents and consults on various issues related to social services. Her clinical work has been with private practice, management of nonprofit agencies, and programming for vulnerable populations.