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Hospital Stay in Touch program provides ‘angels’ for members

New York Teacher
Elderly man and woman sitting next to each other smiling while woman speaks on the phone

More than 100 retirees who were hospitalized last year received a daily, reassuring phone call from a geriatric social worker as part of the extensive support system the union’s Retiree Social Services provides for UFT retirees across the country and their family members.

Through the Hospital Stay in Touch program, a social worker acts as an advocate on behalf of the hospitalized patient, making sure the patient’s needs are being met day by day. That advocacy continues through rehabilitation and lasts until a few days after the patient returns home safely to ensure the patient is doing well and any needed services are in place. The program also can facilitate home care after a return from the hospital.

For retiree Joyce Leon, a paraprofessional for 27 years, social worker Temmi Merlis was “my angel,” staying in touch with Leon when she was alone throughout her husband’s surgery, rehab and yearlong recovery. “She was there for me all the time,” Leon said. “She made me feel I wasn’t bothering her ... that it was from her heart.”

Christopher Chin, the director of the program, said a social worker discovered during a daily phone call that a retiree who had suffered a fractured hip was about to be discharged from rehab to an apartment located up several flights of stairs. Through union advocacy, extra days in rehab were arranged so the retiree would be strong enough to climb the stairs.

All UFT retirees facing their own hospitalization or the hospitalization of a family member are encouraged to sign up to receive the calls as soon as an admission date is scheduled. Retirees are also encouraged to call if they, or a family member, are in an emergency room and need assistance.

To alleviate loneliness or help retirees dealing with the varied issues created by aging, Retiree Social Services also provides a personal touch through its Nationwide Telephone Reassurance Program. Some of the weekly calls to retirees who request them have been going on for two years and more, and the callers have become an extension of the retiree’s family.

The four case managers who make the friendly calls report some calls are short term to help retirees through a time of stress, such as the loss of a spouse. Others continue for longer and often last for 15 to 30 minutes each week, giving the retirees a chance to talk about family issues and even about politics.

The 17th floor of union headquarters in lower Manhattan, where all retiree services are located, is one of the busiest floors in a busy building. Retiree Social Services has three full-time geriatric social workers and a staff of trained caseworkers who provide free professional and confidential services to UFT retirees and their families.

In addition, the social workers provide confidential counseling services and make referrals when counseling needs are longer term. They also provide information and help to retirees facing decisions for themselves or family members about home-care services or moving to assisted living facilities or nursing homes.

To schedule an appointment or receive assistance over the phone, call 212-598-6880.

Retiree Social Services has teamed up with the UFT’s Member Assistance Program to lead support groups for members facing caregiving challenges. Meetings to share experiences and strategies have been arranged for Wednesdays on Oct. 30, Nov. 6, 13 and 20 and Dec. 4 and 11 from 4:30 to 5:45 p.m. on the 12th floor of 52 Broadway. Enrollment is limited, so email or call 212-598-9591 to register. Winter meetings have been scheduled for Feb. 26, March 4, 11 18 and 25 and April 1.