Before Leanne Buck got her Master of Social Work (MSW) degree from the University of Toronto, she gained experience working with all different kinds of people at a youth shelter, in mental health and children’s aid – and in retail.
It wasn’t until she completed her formal education that she heard about the opportunity for MSW grads to work at Community Care Access Centres (CCAC). A friend-of-a-friend who also had a social work background worked as a Case Manager there and really enjoyed her career. “I was aware of hospital social workers, but I didn’t realize social workers could be hired as Case Managers at CCAC,” Leanne says.
Case Managers (also called Care Coordinators) help people like you, your parents and grandparents navigate the health care system and ensure they’re receiving the services they need. The role requires a BScN, BScPT, BScOT, MScSP, MSW, BSW or RN, and Case Managers must be currently licensed or registered according to the requirements of the profession in the province of Ontario and have community health or related clinical experience.
“I saw the Case Manager job posting and I liked the sound of CCAC, so I applied, had an interview, and was offered a full-time permanent position.” Leanne started working as a Care Coordinator at the Toronto Central CCAC in July 2009.
She says her varied work experience played a big part in getting her the job. Her advice for social work students and recent graduates? “Work in a variety of settings. Even if you think that you might want to be a Case Manager, it’s a good idea to work in the different fields of social work first, such as mental health, housing, corrections, children, adults and seniors. Try to get as wide of a foundation as possible because, as a Case Manager, you’re going to work with every sort of person.”
Keep reading to find out what it’s like to be a Case Manager – social work students may be particularly interested in how the job differs from more typical social work roles.
Q. What’s a typical day in your life as a Case Manager?
A. I have approximately 50 clients, so I’m often following up on phone calls from them. But given that my caseload includes many people with more complex needs – my clients tend to have cognitive or memory impairments – I’m usually speaking with family members to answer their questions about how to navigate the healthcare system.
Many of my clients are getting to a stage where they may be unable to stay at home, so I walk them through their options. Sometimes that means applying to a nursing home, or talking to them about their rights if they’re no longer able to make decisions for themselves. A lot of my job is about mitigating risk. I look at what risks the client is facing, and how we can get services and resources in the home to keep them as safe as possible while respecting their choices.
I also work with service providers (such as personal support workers, nurses, physiotherapists, etc.) who are going into clients’ homes. For example, if a service provider notices bruises or that someone is having frequent falls, it’s my job to follow up on that appropriately.
I communicate with hospital staff and help plan when a client goes home, but I also speak with the client, their family, and the service providers. It’s a lot of multi-tasking. Case Managers are pulled in a lot of different directions, so we have to be really careful that we follow up on things and that we don’t let our stress show because we don’t want to stress out family members and clients.
Q. How is being a Case Manager different from other social work jobs?
A. Being a Case Manager is very different because I am co-ordinating mostly healthcare services for people, so sometimes that means I’m speaking with nurses and looking at resources in terms of, say, how often they should be visiting a client. I have to rely on other professionals to get medical information and resources. I work as one part of an interdisciplinary team, but I am still often working independently.
Also, in most social work jobs, I would not be doing capacity assessments. It’s really quite specific to healthcare, CCAC and hospitals.
TalentEgg Tip: Click here to check out our video blog with Central Community Care Access Centre Case Manager Aneeta Permaul, who also has a social work background!
Q. Is your work different than a Case Manager’s who comes from a different background, such as nursing or occupational therapy?
A. We all have exactly the same tasks; we just approach the work with different perspectives. You can definitely see differences in terms of how different Case Managers present clients, how they document things, or what they see as the priorities or red flags, but we all have the same responsibilities.
Q. What was the training like when you first started as a Case Manager?
A. I had three months of orientation and it was more intensive than the training at any other job I’ve had. It covered the legal aspects of our work, such as capacity, substitute decision-makers, and ethical issues that can come up. We also learned how to interact with clients, how to resolve conflict and how to work with people who are really stressed out. There was a lot of technical training, like how to use the electronic documentation. And then we also learned about the care co-ordination itself, such as the expectations in terms of co-ordinating services. For example, how many nursing visits are expected to be done?
Q. What makes a good Case Manager?
A. As a Case Manager, you are responsible for many aspects of a client’s life, so you have to be flexible and willing to talk to them about difficult issues. And, of course, you have to be organized. If you have 50 clients, it’s not just 50 people – that’s 50 different families.
Being a strong communicator is also important because, when people are stressed out, ill, in a lot of pain, or have trouble hearing, you must be very clear about what you’re saying. Communication can be one of the biggest challenges.
The ability to work with other people is also a key component. You can’t do this on your own. You have to be willing to ask people for help and explore different resources. You’re not going to know everything about every situation, so you have get feedback from different professions that you might not know much about.
Q. Why should recent graduates consider becoming Case Managers?
A. There is a lot of flexibility available to you within CCAC. I like that if I no longer want to work with seniors, then I can work with young children or in the mental health field. Within social work there’s a huge variety of roles and you can access that variety from within CCAC.
Community Care Access Centres connect people with the care they need, at home and in their communities. CCACs help people find their way through Ontario’s health care system, understand their options and connect them to quality community based health care and resources.
In total, there are 14 CCACs in communities across Ontario that are funded by Local Health Integration Networks through the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care. This means that CCAC advice and services are covered by OHIP.