Geriatric Social Worker in Hospital Settings: Key Functions and Importance


Geriatric social workers are in charge of delivering care for older people in various settings, namely hospitals, rehabilitation services, community health, indigenous support services, disability services, and aged care facilities. As for the former environment, social workers are an integral part of high-quality care provision. First of all, they ensure that patients’ needs are addressed holistically, meaning that the treatment includes physical care and emotional and psychological support. Secondly, social workers serve as advocates for older adults and ensure that the health issues of the latter are properly addressed. Moreover, they serve as connecting links and coordinators between various departments, which guarantees consistency in treatment. All these functions, in turn, lead to increased effectiveness of care and greater client satisfaction.

Institutional Context’ of the Practice Field

In order to ensure that social workers provide high-quality service to clients, the professionals should adhere to certain legal and ethical standards that would guide their practice. In Australia, the central document that legally regulates the government’s and hospitals’ responsibilities towards older people in the Aged Care Act of 1997 (Australian Government Department of Health, 2020). Except for provisions related to funding and eligibility for receiving government-funded treatment, this document also establishes the standards and expected quality of care. Other laws include Aged Care (Living Longer Living Better) Act 2013, Aged Care Amendment (Red Tape Reduction in Places Management) Act 2016, and Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission Act 2018, to name a few.

Moreover, the Aged Care Diversity Framework, which legally establishes non-discriminatory principles in care, is of particular interest. In other words, the law ensures that all people receive equal treatment regardless of their social, financial, religious, and ethnic background and age. Furthermore, the Australian Association of Social Workers’ code of ethics defines the standards of social workers’ moral conduct (2020). The document promotes professional integrity, social justice, and respect for patients.

The Role of Social Workers Within Hospitals

Within hospital settings, social workers’ responsibilities include patient education, assessing an individual’s mental health, and therapeutic interventions that help older people overcome emotional, psychological, financial, and social problems. In this regard, it is important to mention that the treatment is equally provided to inpatients as well as outpatients. Additionally, these professionals coordinate patient’s care by evaluating their psychological and emotional conditions and communicating a person’s special needs to colleagues in other departments. In line with the previous duty and addressing the hospital’s need for fast patient rotation, geriatric social workers also develop discharge plans for elderly patients.

Importantly, the treatment strategy would vary from person to person as the elderly represent a complex group with diverse problems. For instance, geriatric social workers often need to provide psychological guidance to patients with life-threatening illnesses (Sjöberg et al., 2021). Another major group that necessitates social workers’ help includes elderly patients who encountered physical, emotional, or financial abuse (Hughes et al., 2018). Moreover, older adults usually suffer from mental disabilities such as dementia, for instance, which require constant care from professionals (Hughes et al., 2018). Finally, social workers’ clients also encompass those in the process of physical and psychological rehabilitation after trauma or operation or elderly with several chronic diseases that require frequent medical attention.

Geriatric Care Challenges

There are also several challenges that social workers who provide care for older people may encounter. One of such issues is ageism, whether in its extrinsic or intrinsic form (Phillips, 2018). It implies that care providers, including social workers, can hold stereotypes regarding older patients and their problems, resulting in a failure to recognize the unique issues of each client. This, in turn, leads to reduced quality of treatment and patient dissatisfaction with service. In this respect, the AASW code of ethics provides an ethical guideline on how professionals can overcome the issue. The document promotes “having comprehensive and as relevant information as possible on the matter about which a decision is being made” and being sensitive to persons’ socio-cultural background (p. 11). To achieve that, professionals should primarily possess good communication skills such as active listening. It helps a social worker be attentive to each patient’s story and, as a result, be able to provide patient-centric care. Additionally, by being mindful of their prejudices towards elderly individuals, social workers can significantly overcome the ageism issue.

Another problem that social workers may face is stressful working conditions which include problems interacting with clients and colleagues, lack of management support, and time constraints. Indeed, social workers constantly interact with other people, and conflicts can arise at any time due to conflicting interests or attitudes. In this respect, the professionals should learn how to address the existing problems through effective communications with other stakeholders that seek to balance the conflicting needs of various parties. Importantly, in regards to colleagues, such an interaction should be conducted in a respectful manner, while when encountering issues with clients, social workers should remember that the patient’s needs and desires should be a priority. Another skill that professionals should possess is the ability to address the stress through various practices such as increased mindfulness, breathing exercises, and meditation, to name a few.


Overall, the current essay discussed the crucial aspects that geriatric social work encompasses. First, the importance of these professionals for the provision of holistic care was mentioned, which is associated with the provision of better quality health services. Next, the important legal and ethical frameworks that guide the social workers’ practice were analysed. Moreover, the social workers’ responsibilities were found to be psychological and emotional patient assessment and treatment, client care coordination, and discharge planning. Last, the two challenges, namely ageism and stressful working conditions, were identified and discussed in detail.


Australian Association of Social Workers. (2020). Australian Association of Social Workers code of ethics. Australian Association of Social Workers.

Australian Government Department of Health. (2020). Aged care laws in Australia

Hughes, M., Bigby, C., & Tilbury, C. (2018). Australian social work research on ageing and aged care: A scoping review. Journal of Social Work, 18(4), 431-450.

Phillips, R. (2018). Emancipatory social work with older people: challenging students to overcome the limitations of ageism and institutional oppression. Social Work & Policy Studies: Social Justice, Practice and Theory, 1(001), 1-23.

Sjöberg, M., Edberg, A. K., Rasmussen, B. H., & Beck, I. (2021). Documentation of older people’s end-of-life care in the context of specialised palliative care: a retrospective review of patient records. BMC Palliative Care, 20(1), 1-12.

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