Expanding the social work role: Wayne County Medical Examiner’s Office partners with School of Social Work in first-of-its kind collaboration

Last year, when Wayne State University’s School of Medicine was contracted to run the Wayne County Medical Examiner’s Office (MEO), School of Social Work Dean Sheryl Kubiak was a huge advocate. Through funding from the School of Medicine and the County, one full-time social worker will be hired to work at the MEO, and several Social Work (SSW) students will be placed there for internships in the fall. This is the first collaboration of its kind at Wayne State.

“It’s a unique partnership as not a whole lot exist around the country. Students will need to have a special interest in this realm and be able to handle some very challenging situations, but they will also gain a wealth of knowledge at the MEO, one of the top five busiest in the country,” said Kristi Price, clinical IPE program manager at the SSW.

Price, who will serve as the students’ faculty field liaison, will be training and supervising the MEO interns, along with a full-time social worker placed there.

“Over the next few months, we will be finalizing our program goals, then we will onboard and train the new social worker and bring on student interns in the fall,” Price said.

The internships will be quite unique. 

“Students will work with the full-time social worker to assist families and loved ones who come to the MEO, and at times will assist investigators with cases, and observe morning rounds with doctors and medical students. The internships will run for about nine months, from September to May, and will include stipends (the amount is to be determined),” Price said.

There is a great need for counselors or social workers at the MEO, because there currently are none.

“We’re hoping that through this partnership, social workers will be present with families as they identify their loved ones as well as assist them in the grieving process. Grief is a complicated emotion. When a loved one passes, those who interact with the MEO are frequently in a traumatic state and it can be hard for them to process everything that is going on. Our social workers can help find the resources and additional support they need,” Price noted.

Price has been working closely with Dean Kubiak and Chandra Carr, director of practicum education, to get a good sense of what the MEO team looks like and how this partnership will work.

"The death of a loved one is always a painful event, but when that death is unexpected there can be a more intense emotional reaction. This reaction can be compounded by processes surrounding the cause of death investigation by the Medical Examiner's Office. When grieving families are provided with immediate supportive resources and connections for ongoing community-based supports by social workers embedded within the ME Office, we can minimize loved one's pain and also aid the investigation process,” said Dean Kubiak.

The first year there will be internships available for two or three Bachelor of Social Work or Master of Social Work core students. Students can express their interest when they make an appointment for a practicum placement interview. From there, they will be connected to Price for an interview and next steps. 

“Because of social workers’ training and education, they are well suited to respond to those in crisis as well as connect them with resources. I think this partnership makes a lot of sense, and I hope we’ll form a great team that will help a lot of people,” noted Price.

Thane J. Peterson, vice dean of finance & administration for WSU’s School of Medicine, is also confident this partnership will be valuable for all involved.

“Through our collaboration with the School of Social Work we aim to deliver the highest quality of care, compassion and grief counseling to the decedents’ families and loved ones. This new social work component at the Wayne County Medical Examiner’s Office is an invaluable resource to assist families through the medical examination process. Further, this will create a new training opportunity in the field of social work,” he said.

Author: Laura Hipshire laurahipshire@wayne.edu

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