SEIU 1991 Celebrates World Social Work Day

March 15, 2022

A message from SEIU 1991 President Vicki Gonzalez, BSN, RN

Every year in March, the healthcare community celebrates Social Work Month to honor the change agents who advocate for patients and their families, link them to care, provide ongoing support, and infuse patients with hope throughout their recovery. 

According to the National Association of Social Workers, the American social work profession was established in the late 19th century to help immigrants and other vulnerable groups of people gain the tools and skills necessary to escape poverty. Harry L. Hopkins, a former New York Tuberculosis Society director and close advisor to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, once wrote: “The fields of social work and public health are inseparable, and no artificial boundaries can separate them. Social work is interwoven in the whole fabric of the public health movement, and has directly influenced it at every point.”

Today, on World Social Work Day, SEIU Local 1991 highlights and honors our social worker members who, every day, bring forth empathy, excellence, encouragement, and enthusiasm to Jackson Health System. We thank you for your hard work and commitment to patient care. 

Stronger together,

B. Vicki Gonzalez, BSN, RN
SEIU Local 1991

Jackie Murphy-Walker, MSW

Every day of her 23 years as a social worker, Jackie Murphy-Walker has strived to make her patients’ day better in big and small ways. She has provided clothes and shoes from home and delivered medication to patients in need. She once brought a patient’s cross to the nursing home he was discharged to, as she knew it was important to him. She has comforted family members while loved ones are in the hospital with restricted visitation and advocated for the patient to receive all needed care post-discharge. 

Her philosophy is to treat each patient with respect and compassion, empathize with the struggles they face while navigating the healthcare system, and advocate strongly for their needs. She believes it’s important to remember that, at any moment, anyone can be a patient or have a loved one in the hospital. 

“And over the years, it has been me,” Jackie says. 

In 2015, her daughter 27-year-old Samantha was shot by a stray bullet. Samantha was admitted to the Neuro-Intensive Care Unit where her mom worked. She survived only a few days in the hospital. 

“She is forever 27,” Jackie says. “She was my eldest and the best thing that ever happened to me. Every day, I get sad. I still do. I celebrate her any chance I get.” 

Samantha’s daughter was 2 years old when her mom died. Jackie and her husband adopted the girl. 

“Now she’s 9 going on 29,” Jackie says. “She’s exactly like her mother. Spunky and witty, but a little more mature than her mom. They’re like twins. She brings me a lot of joy. She’s a blessing by all means, but it doesn’t take away the blow.” 

Jackie donated all of Samantha’s organs. One person received her heart and kidney, and another received her liver. Both recipients contacted Jackie to express their gratitude. 

Jackie recently transferred from neurosurgical ICU to transplant. She believes her new role serves as another way for her to continue to have a connection with Samantha. Transitioning to transplant has been the right decision for Jackie. She says she takes it personally when a recipient doesn’t take care of their organs. She doesn’t share her story with patients, as she says it’s not her place, but she does stress the importance of compliance. 

“My role as a transplant social worker is to advocate for these patients and to continue to educate them on the greatest gift that they received, and that is the gift of life,” she says. “A second chance to live a long and healthy life. I will do my best for each of my patients to ensure that they have access to care.” 

Jackie says one way she honors Samantha is by ensuring that transplant patients have the needed familial and financial support. 

“I make sure they’re on their medication, going to their appointments, and that they’re on the straight and narrow,” Jackie says. “I make sure they’re taking care of their organs, and I make sure they survive so they can live their best life. That’s the whole point.” 

Jeleine Fertil, MPH

Jeleine Fertil has worked at Jackson for more than 20 years, first as a health educator and then as a social worker with the South Florida AIDS Network/Care and Treatment. From the moment a patient is admitted, Jeleine engages them with education, links them to medical care and case management, and connects them to social services such as drug treatment, shelter placement, and other community services. 

Her motivation is not only to help patients overcome their health challenges, but to inject them with the hope they sometimes lose when living with HIV/AIDS. She believes in her patients even when they stop believing in themselves. 

“I have seen patients who give up, but I pushed them to reach a level where they believed that they could see themselves in a healthier state with the strategies set up for them,” Jeleine says. “I try to show them that there is light at the end of the tunnel and that there’s life after being diagnosed with HIV/AIDS.” 

Jeleine recalls one patient who was admitted because she no longer wanted to see her doctors, take her medication, or take care of herself. 

“She was tired,” Jeleine says. “We hear a lot of that. Patients sometimes reach the point when they are overwhelmed and tired of taking medications.” 

With encouragement from Jeleine, SFAN staff, and the medical team, the patient became adherent to her medical care. After about a month, she was discharged from the hospital and within time returned to work, became active with her family, and lived her life to the fullest. 

“It takes us giving a push for them to keep going,” Jeleine says. “I encourage our patients to take control of their HIV disease and not let it take control of them. Because of this, they are living longer, healthier and productive lives.”

Yoani Garcia, right, and her daughter Olivia

Yoani Garcia, MSW 

Yoani Garcia has been a Jackson Health System social worker for six years, first in transplant and now in behavioral health. She says the years she spent in transplant were a gift; she witnessed the selflessness of organ donation and the dedication of recipients who commit to lifelong anti-rejection medication, regular doctor’s appointments, and financial burdens, all for a second chance at a healthy life. Her time in transplant was also challenging because of the decisions she was involved in making. 

“You’re in a position where you have to really think strategically — should we give this person another chance? Doesn’t everyone deserve a second chance? On the other hand, I also considered it a responsibility to a donor’s family to choose appropriately. This decision is crucial. For someone to receive a transplant, something awful has to happen to someone else. That was the most challenging for me. How do I navigate through this process in a way that’s fair to everyone involved?” 

Yoani says the most beautiful and satisfying thing about her time in transplant is that she still receives updates from patients and her families. 

When a social worker position opened up three years ago in the Behavioral Health Hospital, she pursued it. She has a bachelor’s degree in psychology and loves everything about how the brain works. Yoani is passionate about providing ongoing support, encouragement, and therapeutic services to patients being treated for mental health conditions. She has a secret closet full of clothes and shoes organized by size. She periodically asks students and colleagues for donations of gently worn items so she can store them. When a patient is close to being discharged and expresses that they need clothing, Yoani makes them a care package. 

“I do this with all the love in the world,” Yoani says. “I know that as one person I’m not going to change the world, but in that moment, I’ve come through for someone who needed it.” 

She tries to live by a quote from the late Robin Williams: “Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Be kind. Always.” 

Yoani believes that doing things and speaking from the heart can move mountains. Meeting patients where they are and relating to them helps, too. Yoani is open with her patients about her own mental health struggles. 

“When they tell me I don’t understand what they’re going through, I tell them I do,” she says. “Families say thank you for sharing your personal story with patients because now they understand how therapy and medication work in conjunction. I have a history of anxiety and depression, and that’s fine, but I function because I’ve gone to therapy and sustain myself with medication. I don’t plan on taking it all my life, but I show them compliance is key.” 

Ms. Bell, MSW, MSCE 

For Ms. Bell, social work isn’t just a profession; it’s a movement and a value system. Her heroes are civil rights activists like Mary McLeod Bethune and Sojourner Truth, as well as Ida B. Wells, who used writing to fight injustices and whose activism helped lay the foundation for modern social work. 

A Jackson social worker of 7 years, Ms. Bell has created a positive, open-group atmosphere for incarcerated youth and adults in Miami-Dade County. She approaches her job with humility, compassion, and fairness toward the vulnerable people in her care. The social worker uses evidence-based practices by providing the incarcerated with various educational and social tools, such as videos, music, books, art, exercise, and sports. She uses these tools to motivate the incarcerated to incorporate them into their everyday lives, promote behavior changes, create a positive group therapy environment, and encourage feedback. 

“I can be walking through a courtroom and someone will yell, ‘Miss B., you got something to read?’” Ms. Bell says. “I used to create newsletters for the juvenile population to learn poetry, academic terminology, historical facts, and coping tools. It gives them something to talk about and keeps them updated on current events. The goal in a corrections setting is to keep the patients active so no one decompensates.” 

Ms. Bell hosts themed group sessions on Tuesdays and Thursdays for the youth to engage in different activities — art, stretching, exercise, meditation, open discussions, music therapy, dance, singing, and writing. Ms. Bell buys toiletries to encourage hygiene maintenance among the teens. 

“It is so rewarding to see the minor things we take for granted mean so much in this setting,” Ms. Bell says. 

Throughout her tenure, Ms. Bell has believed in providing a list of positive affirmations with her daily encounters with juveniles and adults. She encourages all patients to learn and continue to seek therapeutic interventions. 

“I always tell them that they’re the future and we need them,” she says. “I stress the importance of learning new things and being open as they transition to the outside, whether that’s home or a prison setting. I tell them they are just little people.” 

Leave a Reply