Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Social Service Coordinators provide valuable assistance

Story and photo by Mitch Finley, Inland Register staff

(From the Sept. 10, 2009 edition of the Inland Register)

Lynette Jensen (left) is Social Service Coordinator for The O’Malley in Spokane, assisted this year by Jesuit Volunteer Molly O’Brien. (IR photo)

People who live in Diocese of Spokane Catholic Charities housing facilities know who to talk with when they need help: the Social Service Coordinator. There is one apartment building in Clarkson and one in Pullman, and there are five in Spokane and two in Walla Walla. Rockwood Lane in Spokane, which offers apartments for purchase, also has a Social Service Coordinator.

Since about 1994, the coordinators have acted as intermediaries between each apartment dweller and a sometimes dizzying array of government and other social service agencies and bureaucracies. In most Catholic Charities housing facilities, the Social Service Coordinator also supervises a residents’ committee that schedules entertainment.

Lynnette Jensen, Social Service Coordinator at The O’Malley Apartments, in Spokane’s St. Aloysius Parish neighborhood, also has the title of Social Service Program Regional Manager, supervising all the other Social Service Coordinators.

In her duties at the O’Malley, Jensen is assisted by Molly O’Brien, a Jesuit Volunteer recently arrived from Pennsylvania.

“We’re committed to preserving residents’ rights, safety, and independent living,” said Jensen, with the ultimate goal of enhancing the residents’ quality of life.

At the O’Malley, in-home care is of special concern. Jensen said that Washington State’s Department of Social and Health Services, as well as Medicaid, provide some services to residents: helping with personal tasks such as bathing, managing medication, preparing meals, housekeeping, and transportation. The coordinator helps residents with the application process, “which is very complex,” she said. The program requires an assessment, which can make some residents somewhat anxious, and so the coordinator will sometimes be present to offer support.

The coordinators also monitor care to make sure residents are receiving appropriate assistance, and keep in contact with the families of residents. “Sometimes we get the family involved if some issue needs to be dealt with,” she said, “and sometimes the family lets the Social Service Coordinator know when something comes up.”

When the need arises, coordinators also facilitate conflict resolution in group settings.

Coordinators must have earned a degree in social work or a related field. Knowledge of the community is a plus, she said, including area agencies and resources. “Although ‘Social Service Coordinator’ is growing as an employment opportunity, it isn’t always easy to find the right person for a particular position,” said Jensen. “Each apartment building has a unique personality, and we try to find the right person for each place.”

“What I enjoy most about my job,” Jensen said, “is how appreciative the residents are when we are successful at getting them a resource that they really need.” She told the story of a Medicaid patient who had moved from Kentucky to Spokane. He’d had to leave his motorized scooter back East, but Medicaid rules would not allow a replacement for another three years.

“He was quite frail,” she said. Jensen applied to the Rotary Club, who donated a rebuilt motorized scooter.

“He was actually tearful when he received the scooter, and I felt very self-rewarded that I was able to get him something that he really needed,” she said.

“Sometimes, too, we just give simple comfort to our residents. This morning we visited with a resident who has just been diagnosed with a terminal illness,” not uncommon in a residence for seniors. The resident hoped to get her teeth cleaned, and some new eyeglasses, and a shower bench. A few phone calls later – Cancer Patient Care came forward with the bench – and a grateful resident was lined up with donated services she needed.

A regular part of a coordinator’s job is dealing with the death of a resident. “That’s a hard one,” said Jensen. “The big thing is comforting the other residents when someone dies. We do a lot of active listening.”

At the Fahey Gardens and Fahy West Apartments, located about a block from each other, near St. Joseph Church on Spokane’s West Dean Ave., the Social Service Coordinator is Darlene Stewart, a native of Maryland and a U.S. Air Force retiree. After leaving the military, she earned a B.A. in Social Work from Eastern Washington University. She’s been on the job about a year now.

Stewart describes her typical day thus: “You never know how a day is going to go. I’ll come in one morning, and find total quiet. Another morning I’ll come in and find that there are four or five people who have been taken to the hospital. For the average day, however, I come in and check to see if everybody is okay.”

Once a month all the Social Service Coordinators get together to compare notes and give mutual support. They gather once a year at someone’s home for a retreat, usually lead by Jensen, and also come together for the occasional in-service, said Stewart.

At Rockwood Lane, a stone’s throw north of Spokane’s Sacred Heart Church and south of Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center’s campus, the part-time Social Service Coordinator is Catherine Kardong, a 2007 graduate of Boston College who majored in Sociology. Coincidentally, she grew up in Sacred Heart Parish. She’s been at Rockwood Lane since April.

As a pastoral ministry intern through her school, she came back to Spokane and worked with Catholic Charities. “I spent time in all the different agencies to try to figure out where my niche was. My favorite experience was with Senior Services,” from cleaning apartments to taking people on errands. “I really liked working with elders and seeing the positive impact you can have when you’re doing something concrete for someone.”

Kardong moved back home to Spokane in February 2008.

Her typical workday includes maintaining records and filling out forms. She talks to families, and mingles with residents “so I can hear about what’s going on.”

Although the apartments are privately owned, she still works with caregivers, housekeepers, and helps with health insurance.

All the coordinators seem to share the same bottom line, however. Jensen spoke for them all: “I love my job.”

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