Historical Background of Hospital Social Work : Global Perspective

Now-a-days medical social work is considered as a specialized branch of Social Work and an integral part of medical team. The present status of medical social work has not achieved over night. It has taken a long period to achieve its present status. During the nineteenth century great scientific progress was made in the field of medicine. The germ theory of disease and the organic approach to the diagnosis and treatment of disease contributed in no small measure to the beginning of a scientific ear in medicine. With the great advance in the development of a scientific body of knowledge and the discovery of several mechanical aids for diagnosis and treatment of illness, specialization and institutional medical care became inevitable. 
Industrial revolution and the consequent growth of big cities where a large section of the population lived in poverty, ignorance and in unhygienic slum areas also contributed to the increasing number of people seeking medical care from free hospitals and clinics. More and more patients began to be treated away from home hospitals and clinics, where several specialists attended on them. Separation from home and adjustment to the strange, impersonal atmosphere of hospitals created new difficulties for the patients. In the busy hospitals and clinics many specialists saw the patient only for a very short time and there was no one to study and understand the patient as a person in his total situation. Gradually, a need was felt for someone who could study the total background of a patient including his physical, cultural, psychological and social factors. He also should share this understanding with the physician and work on the social aspects of illness in order to make medical treatment effective. Medical social work came into existence to meet this need (Pathak, 1961). 

Hospital Social Work in United Kingdom:
In the beginning, hospital social workers ware known as Almoners in Britain and Ireland. The credit of introducing hospital social work in Ireland goes to Dr. Webb and Winifred Alcock. Dr Ella Webb established dispensary for sick children in the Adelaide Hospital in Dublin. Winifred Alcock was trained as an Almoner and worked with Dr. Ella Webb in her dispensary 

In 1885, the necessity of hospital social work practice was felt for the first time in England. Then it was recognized that discharged patients of mental hospital need aftercare in their home to escape recurrence of illness. Physicians realized that recently discharged patients are coming back to the hospital as they faced problem in their living environment. It was felt that these patients needed help to solve their socio-economic crisis that hindered the normal recovery of their illness (Dastur, 1974; Ismail, 2005).

In Britain, professional hospital social work began its journey in 1945 with the establishment of Institute of Almoners. It was renamed as the Institute of Medical Social Workers in 1964. The Institute of Medical Social Workers played an important role to form the British Association of Social Workers in 1970 as of the founder organizations. In Britain, Medical Social Workers were transferred from the National Health Services (NHS) into local authority Social Service Department in 1974. From then they became known as Hospital Social Workers.

Development of Hospital Social Work in United States:
In United States social work practice was based in the community till the early 1900s. In the mid 1800s social workers dealt with public health problems such as tuberculosis, infant mortality, syphilis, polio and unmarried pregnancy though joint venture with different agencies (Nacman, 1977, Ross 1995). Some women physicians such as Elizabeth Blackwell and Rebecca Cole, Played as important role in the development of social services. Elizabeth Black Well formed a dispensary which developed into the New York Infirmary for women and children. Rebecca Cole, an African American physician, became a sanitary visitor in 1866 (Ross, 1995). In 1893 Jane Addams established a medical dispensary at Hull House Settlement. But social workers were not permitted in hospitals before 1900 except a few isolated cases such an event took place City Hospital transformed into hospital from Almshouse in 1891. Fred Goldenbogen of the Cleaveland City Welfare Department was assigned to set up records at City Hospital so that patients could be identified by name and relatives could be notified in can of death (Wagner, 1957, Ross 1995). In 1900, William Kerry, director of the City Outdoor Relief Department, assisted the hospital in clearing wards “clogged by chronic patients and by homeless civil war veterans” and he also demonstrated the value of social services the hospital by freeing beds(Ross,1995).

Medicine and social work joined lands in 1905 with the establishment of Medical Social Work at the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston under the enthusiastic, able encouragement of Dr. Richard Clarke Cabot. He and others recognized the need to understand more about social factors related to illness and its treatment, and to utilized social and community resources (Skidmore and Thakery, 1964). Almost at the same time, hospital social work was introduced three others hospitals; Bellevue Hospital in New York, John Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore and Berkeley Infirmary in Boston (Friedlander, 1982; Ismail, 2005).

In 1905, at the Massachusetts General Hospital Miss Garnet Pelton and 13 volunteer assistance were permitted to set up tables and chairs in a corridor known as “the corner “(Canon, 1957, Ross 1995). This hospital expanded its social services to include forty five social workers. The first organized department of Hospital training. She worked Dr. Cabot’s infirmary from 1906 and on inpatient wards beginning in 1919 (Canon, 1957; Ross 1995).

The American Association of Medical Social Workers (AAMSW) was established in 1918 with the goal of giving support and strength to the Embryonic Development of Hospital Social Work. This association focused on developing a knowledge base, under took a series of practice studies, and set a standard for scholarship (Ross, 1995). 

In mid 1920s, the American Hospital Association (AHA) produced the first formalized articulation of Medical Social Work. By the time, Social Work department was established in 300 Hospitals. By 1930 the number of Hospital Social Service Department increased up to 1000. By 1946 a total of 2095 Social Workers belonged to the American Association of Medical Social Workers (AAMSW) (Skidmore and Thekary, 1964). 

The conception about role of Medical Social Worker, defined by Richard Cabot, was expanded and two additional roles were defined: (i) To serve as liaison between physicians and patients and between physician and community resources required for supplementary care and (ii) To enlist cooperation with the medical treatment plant through patient’s education (Caputi, 1978; Ross, 1995). 

Demand for Medical Social Worker increased with the passage of the Federal Emergency Relief Act of 1933, the Federal Security Act of 1935 and the establishment of the Federal Crippled Children’s’ Services, which included social work services (Nacman, 1977; Ross, 1995).

In 1955, American Association of Medical Social Work along with other social work organization established National Association of Social Workers (NASW). Medical Social Work section of NASW has remained active in relation to practice and education of Medical Social Work and has sponsored regional Institutes to raise the level of practice in medical settings (Skidmore and Thekary, 1964).

In 1961, the Joint Committee of the American Hospital Association and the National Association of Social Workers formalized additional functions : assisting the health care team to understand the significance of social, economic, and emotional factors; helping the patient and family to understand these factors to enable them to make constructive use of medical care and promoting their well-being and morale; and assisting the hospital in giving better patient care (advocacy) (AHA, 1961; Caputi, 1978). In the 1960s theorists such as Perlman, Parad, and Kaplan suggested that the individual with an illness could be understood to be facing a series of adaptive tasks with a capacity for renewal, change, and growth (Mailik, 1979). 

The role of social work in hospitals during the 1950s and early 1960s was expanded and affirmed; consequently, there was a shortage of professionally trained practitioners (Heyman, 1962; NASW, 1959). The need for social work in hospitals was emphasis by chapter xviii and xix of the Social Security Act. On basis of the act health insurance for people over 65 years of age (Medicare); for medically indigent people younger than 21 years, permanently and totally disabled and medically indigent people between 21 and 60 years of age and for the medically indigent people older than 65 years ( Marcus, 1987; Nacman, 1977; Ross, 1995). In 1960 hospital social workers became involved in social action and emphasis elimination of the external causes of psychological and social dysfunction (Lurie, 1984; Ross, 1995). The American Hospital Association (AHA) was renamed as the Society of Social Work Administrators in health care in 1993 (Ross, 1995).

Hospital Social Work in India:
Introduction of Hospital Social Work in India was influenced by the work of lady almoners of Britain and medical social workers in America. The physicians of India who visited Britain and America for study got the opportunity to observe the activities of almoners and medical social workers. After returning in India some of the physicians were very interested to start similar activities in there hospitals or clinics. The opening of social and preventive medicine departments in medical colleges, psychiatric clinic in some of the general hospitals and training programs in medical social work in some of the school of social work in Bombay and Delhi placed student for practical training in hospital and clinic give further impetus to the development of medical social work in India. The first medical social worker in India was appointed in 1946 in the J. J. Hospital in Bombay. Gradually, medical social worker began to be appointed in other hospitals and clinics of India. At present, medical social workers are working in almost all the States of India (Pathak, 1961). 

In short, practice of hospital social work emerged in U. K and USA. Some major steps can be identified in the way of development of Hospital Social Work. The first step was recognition of after care of patients of mental hospitals and appointment of visitors to avoid recurrence of ill near. The second step of development of medical social work was appointment of lady almoners in English Hospitals. The step was practice of visiting home of patients by visiting nurses. The fifth one was training of medical students in social agencies. The sixth step was establishment of medical social work department in Massachusetts Hospital in Boston in 1905. The seventh step was establishment of American Association of Medical Social Workers (AAMSW) in 1918. The last and most important step was establishment of National Association of Social Workers (NASW) in 1955. Since its inception, its medical social work unit is working to date for the development of Hospital Social Work globally.
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