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Social workers: the champions of mental health

March 3, 2021

In 1984, the United States government formally recognized National Social Work Month in March. The recognition celebrates social workers and their contributions to our society. These professionals use psychology and sociology to solve social issues and improve individual lives. Social work can be emotionally draining and require long hours, yet still, these special professionals strive every day to advocate for and improve the quality of life of their patients.

We’d like to introduce you to 13 NCH social workers.

Trikina Banks, MSW, LCSW
Medical Group/Behavioral Health
Length of time at NCH: Four and a half years

NCH Influencer: I am most inspired by the tenacity of the individuals I serve here at NCH. It takes a lot of courage to seek therapy.

What do you enjoy most about social work? Social work is a wonderful adventure to intimately partner in the journey of a fellow soul. It’s a journey that reveals the secret joy and pain that set us apart from one another, yet bind us so tightly.

Ericka Battisti, LCSW
Clinical Lead, Behavioral Health Intake
Length of time at NCH:
Five years

NCH Influencer: Honestly, the whole behavioral health intake team. We have been exceptionally busy, and we always get the job done. I’m blessed to work with some of the best.

What I enjoy most about social work: The variety of ways I can help. My role at NCH is different than case managers on the units/programs in behavioral health which is different than the social workers in the ED or medical floors.

Maureen Behrends, MSW, LCSW
Social Work Team Lead, Oncology and Palliative Care
Care Coordination
Length of time at NCH: Seven years

NCH Influencer: This is hard because I’m in awe at how each discipline works so closely to ensure NCH is providing excellent care for our patients. My fellow social workers continue to inspire and support me. I can rely on their encouragement and guidance every day. We tackle complex cases as a team and never hesitate to jump in if someone needs support.

What do you enjoy most about social work? Social work is a calling and a passion that allows me to help others. I have the ability to make a difference in someone’s life. Social work has allowed me to build deep connections with our patients. Patients open up and allow us to be a part of their journey. I’ve had the privilege of witnessing resilience and strength during the darkest of times. I’ve witnessed the beginning and end of life. I’ve helped a patient carry out his last wishes to reunite with his family. I’m able to act as an advocate for those who are most vulnerable. Social work has challenged me to think outside the box and work with the tools and resources I have. No two days are ever the same. I find myself incredibly lucky to have a career I love.

Carmie Hanley, MSW, LCSW
Care Coordination, covering primarily ICU
Length of time at NCH: Five years

NCH Influencer: Our team lead social worker, Maureen Behrends, because her dedication, enthusiasm and spirit are truly contagious.

What do you enjoy most about social work? I enjoy so many things about the profession and am fortunate to work with an incredible team here at NCH. I particularly enjoy and appreciate the diversity of the discipline. As social workers we are trained in human behavior and therapeutic intervention. We can practice in many different arenas and hold varied positions. The work varies greatly depending on the setting, and in medical social work we get to experience critical insight into the biological, psychological and social impact of conditions that affect our patients. We interact with patients and families at some of their most vulnerable moments, and when they are most unprepared. This then is also the opportunity to deliver the support that is needed, and contribute to positive outcomes which is truly rewarding.

Kim Jensen, LCSW, OSW-C
Outpatient Cancer Services
Length of time at NCH: 23 years

NCH Influencer: Patients inspire me. I have never had cancer but I have learned so much from them about how to persevere through treatment and their resilience in the face of adversity. They are a blessing to me.

What do you enjoy most about social work? Being there for a patient/family during one of the most difficult times in their lives. I feel like I can make a difference.

Ayami Agnes Kawamata, LCSW
Behavioral Health Intake Counselor/Psychiatric Liaison 
Length of time at NCH: Five years

NCH Influencer: I am inspired by all of my coworkers, especially from our Intake Department team. We all work in the best interest for our patients and their family members in the community. I believe we inspire and help each other and I wouldn’t be able to work without my team.

What I enjoy most about social work: I enjoy the fact that I have the opportunity to be a part of patients’ and their family members’ lives and to listen to their stories. In my current role at the hospital, patients’ family members come in feeling lost at times and it makes me happy when we’re able to help and be there for them.

Alanna Lennon, LCSW
Care Coordination
Length of time at NCH: Six years

NCH Influencer: It’s hard to name just one! The incredible way the nurses and patient care technicians have taken on the task of caring for COVID patients has been inspiring. The dedication of my fellow social workers provides daily inspiration for me. I believe I am a better social worker because of my team.

What do you enjoy most about social work? I take pride in helping patients by providing a needed resource, helping a family or making a patient feel secure at home. I grew up and now live in Arlington Heights and I feel I contribute to the betterment of our community by helping those in need.

Angela Lubowicki, LCSW
Length of time at NCH: 13 years

NCH Influencer: Kim Jensen from oncology/outpatient social work is an inspiration to me. She brings compassion, extensive knowledge, patience and humor all together in the most beautiful way. She has positively impacted the lives of so many patients, families, coworkers and social work students by the phenomenal work she does.

What I enjoy most about social work: Knowing there will always be unique situations and challenges every day, knowing I will learn something new and valuable in taking on this challenge, and of course, applying this knowledge to better the lives of others, especially the most vulnerable.

Olga Mazur, LCSW
Emergency Department
Length of time at NCH: Two and a half years

NCH Influencer: Cindy in Guest Services has inspired me, as she always has a bright smile and goes above and beyond to make patients a priority. Cindy’s service to the NCH population is outstanding and she makes a difference in people’s days with her kind manner. Cindy has a positive attitude and is supportive to everyone around her and stops to say hi.

What I enjoy most about social work: It allows me to work with diverse populations and connect them to community resources. I enjoy communicating with patients and families and assisting with safe discharge planning, while collaborating with the ED team and community agencies. I enjoy working with our strong and supportive social work team. It is rewarding when I can make a difference in a person’s life and make a life transition easier, by educating families and providing necessary resources during the difficult times.

Susan McNamara, LCSW
Care Coordination
Length of time at NCH: Eight years

NCH Influencer: I have been inspired at different moments on different days by every single person on my social work team. They each bring an amazing skill set to the table. Each one seems to have an unending amount of compassion and humor that allows us to keep moving forward.

What I enjoy most about social work: Social work is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get! It’s always interesting, no two days are the same. And because of this, I feel that we are always evolving and learning new skills.

Kim Stobbe, LCSW
Women and Children’s Department
Length of time at NCH: Seven years

NCH Influencer: Rochelle Sowa has taught me the importance of always approaching people and situations with confidence and grace. Rochelle inspires me to be a better social worker by valuing others and taking the time to truly listen intently to each person no matter what they are saying and to always give them 100 percent in that moment.

What I enjoy most about social work: I love the unexpected situations that come up each day. It keeps me on my toes! I love the different aspects of social work including advocacy, crisis intervention and community collaboration. I work with an amazing team at NCH and feel blessed to have the opportunity.

Debra Torres, LCSW
Care Coordination
Length of time at NCH: Five years

NCH Influencer: Margie Wilson. She recently retired.

What do you enjoy most about social work? The collaborative role we play on the multi-disciplinary team to provide excellent patient care.

Sharon Zima, MSW, LCSW
Clinical Care Coordination Team and Home Health Care
Length of time at NCH:  More than 20 years

NCH Influencer: It is a difficult choice to pick one person, because everyone inspires me in some way on some level. However, I would like to shout out to our social work team as they inspire me daily.

What do you enjoy most about social work? Social work is multifaceted and we all have so many opportunities to provide offerings and resources that change people’s lives for the better and, in so many cases, empower people to thrive. We have the opportunity to lean in to the most challenging human experiences and provide support. I love to collaborate, working side by side with patients, families, colleagues and community. It’s very meaningful for me to be able to connect with so many people in these ways.