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Soc Work Health Care. 2020 Jan;59(1):46-60. doi: 10.1080/00981389.2019.1695703. Epub 2019 Nov 29.

Physician and nurse practitioner perceptions of social worker and community health worker roles in primary care practices caring for frail elders: Insights for social work.

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Social Work Department, Westfield State University, Westfield, MA, USA.
Health Policy Research Center, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, MA, USA.
Harvard Medical School, Harvard University, Boston, MA, USA.
Columbia School of Social Work, Columbia University, New York, NY, USA.
Massachusetts Health Policy Commission, Boston, MA, USA.
School of Social Work, Simmons University, Boston, MA, USA.
Department of Public Health, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Boston, MA, USA.


Social workers (SW) and community health workers (CHW) have emerged as key workforce personnel in efforts to care for elders in the U.S. However, little is known about the presence and roles of SW and CHW in primary care practices. This paper presents findings from a nationally representative survey of geriatrics and primary care practices. Physician and nurse practitioner clinicians were randomly selected within practices, stratifying by practice staffing and presence/absence of geriatric clinicians; our final sample for this analysis included 341 practices. Key findings include: reported challenges in meeting the social service needs of elders, underutilization of SW, and fuller utilization of social work competencies in practices in which both SW and CHW were present. These findings offer a unique perspective of SW on interprofessional teams and have implications for the future of the profession.


Primary care; community health work; frail elder; social work; social work competencies; survey

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