Congenital Heart Disease Care Model: Social Work

Oct 21, 2019 | Ethan McConkey, Moderator | @ethanmcconkey

KelliP Social Work


This is the first in a series of blogposts that describe the different aspects of the Congenital Heart Disease Center's multi-disciplinary model of care. In this post, the role social work in care of CHD patients is examined and explained by Mayo Clinic Rochester social worker Kelli Passalacqua.

Over 20-plus years in social work, assisting patients in such areas as pediatric oncology and cystic fibrosis, Kelli Passalacqua has witnessed the impact of serious health conditions on patients and their entire families. In July of 2019, Passalacqua joined the Mayo Clinic Center for Congenital Heart Disease, to spearhead the social work aspect of patient care.

At this time, Passalacqua’s role is still developing, as she is so early in her tenure in the Congenital Heart Disease Center, but so far she has largely come into patient’s lives at the outset of their care at Mayo Clinic, often times prior to their first appointment with a physician.

Passalacqua’s primary objective with patients is to help them throughout their care, identify and then manage stressors and anxiety that comes with a lifelong diagnosis:

“I am finding that the patients with chronic health illnesses and particularly with congenital and genetic heart conditions deal with a wide range of challenges which include coping with grief and loss, as well as depression, and anxiety about their illness.  Sometimes this is a symptom of the illness and other times this is a reaction to the illness.  Communicating with their family, friends, teachers, employers about their illness can be challenging, on top of the financial realities of a chronic health condition.   Although, these issues are not largely clinical, they do impact significant areas of a person’s life which can affect their quality of life and sense of well-being.  Patients often need to make changes to their work or school schedules which causes an extra personal burden.”

During meetings with patients and families, Passalacqua works through a psychosocial assessment in order to identify factors within their lives that could help minimize or exacerbate stress. They start by discussing why they are at Mayo, and identify history and factors that play a role in their current adjustment to their disease.

At that time, Passalacqua will work with the patient to create a plan for each aspect of their care outside of the clinic, largely focusing on modifiable factors that inhibit a good quality of life.

The biggest challenge Passalacqua faces is educating patients about her role is as a social worker and helping them understand that she is there to help. Passalacqua explained,

“The role of the social worker continues to evolve in the health care setting.  Most patients with chronic health conditions such as congenital or genetic cardiac disorders are affected from an emotional standpoint. Coping skills are essential when we are faced with the situation or condition that is both potentially stressful and meaningful.  Every patient and family member must find ways to cope with the disease and treatment which presents an unfamiliar set of stressful situations.” Passalacqua continued, “Regardless of one’s background, resources, socio-economic status or knowledge or? health literacy, every patient and family require support”.

Passalacqua emphasizes the importance of helping these patients find success with their adjustment and coping with their diagnosis, but also her hopes for her new role:

My wish for working with this population of patients is to optimize their emotional and physical well-being by enhancing their strength and understanding of the personal and psychosocial implications of their illness.”


Interested in more newsfeed posts like this? Go to the Congenital Heart Disease blog.

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