At a glance, it’s easy to think of Valley Children’s Hospital as a structure, a collection of walls organized in a logical pattern to support the weight of the floors and ceilings above it. And on its face, that’s true; the steady walls of the hospital have stood witness to decades of life-altering moments. They’ve been silent onlookers to countless joys, victories and losses, and they have seen doubt countered with courage, uncertainty with understanding, and despair with hope.
But if you look closer, you’ll find that the hospital isn’t just a physical structure made of steel and mortar. It’s a living and breathing being, and at its core is a heart made of the many people who bring their best each day, knowing children are counting on them. They, too, support the weight of the work done there. Truly, they support the most important part of Valley Children’s: the children and families the hospital is privileged to care for.
One of the extraordinary people at Valley Children’s heart is Margie Kertzman. For nearly four decades, she has served as a licensed clinical social worker, a role in which she helps families cope with the hospitalization of a child.
Margie Kertzman, LCSW, celebrates 40 years at Valley Children's in 2023
“[In my 40 years,] there have been so many moments where I’ve had the privilege to walk with a family during the course of their journey here at the hospital,” says Margie. “There have been journeys that have been filled with happiness and joy, and there have been others that have been filled with sadness and grief. But they’ve all been important.”
Margie joined Valley Children’s in 1983 and has been a treasured fixture at the organization ever since.
“When I got to Valley Children’s, it just felt so good to be here and I loved the work I was doing,” she says. She has held numerous roles as a social worker, serving in the NICU, oncology, rehabilitation, complex care pediatrics and the high-risk infant follow-up program. Along the way, Margie established a bereavement follow-up program and served as Valley Children’s first bereavement coordinator, where she supported families who had experienced the death of a child. Currently, Margie is one of six social workers serving families in the neonatal intensive care and pediatric intensive care units.
In Margie’s tenure at Valley Children’s, she has seen an evolution of the field of social work in pediatric healthcare. When she joined the organization, there were 600 employees and three full-time social workers. In the four decades since, social work has grown into a dedicated team of 50-plus, including on-site support 24 hours a day.
Margie credits this growth to the recognition of the vital contributions that social workers make to the care team and the difference they make to families facing some of the most emotional moments of their lives.
“[The growth of the social work team] is recognition that families do need support during the course of their hospital stay, that they need somebody present to be a part of this journey with them, no matter the outcome,” says Margie. “Valley Children’s validates that by the number of staff here at the hospital and the fact that we are present and available 24 hours a day.”
“[In my 40 years at Valley Children's,] there have been so many moments where I’ve had the privilege to walk with a family during the course of their journey here at the hospital,” says Margie. “There have been journeys that have been filled with happiness and joy, and there have been others that have been filled with sadness and grief. But they’ve all been important.”
It takes not only a specialized skillset, but a special kind of person to take that journey with a family, walking hand-in-hand with them through the rollercoaster of emotions that can accompany a child’s hospital stay. Social workers, Margie explains, must be – at their core – empathetic, compassionate and non-judgmental, and they must be active listeners. These skills can not only make a family feel comforted, but can also break down barriers for their care.
“Social workers break barriers in so many ways,” Margie explains. “We break barriers when it comes to culture. It’s so important to get an understanding of [a family’s] culture and convey that to staff so there’s a better understanding of what the family is experiencing based on that culture and belief system. We break barriers with language – we have the tools to bring in people who will be able to communicate with the family to have an understanding of what they’re experiencing and ensure they understand what’s happening to their child. We break barriers for concrete things, like transportation and making sure the family has a meal. We break barriers in communication. We break barriers on a daily basis, and it can be something really insignificant or it can be something really huge.”
But Margie – and all the other extraordinary people at Valley Children’s heart – knows that seemingly small acts of kindness can make all the difference to a family struggling to cope with their child’s hospitalization.
“That’s our primary role: understanding how a family is adjusting to the hospitalization. And if they’re not, what can we do to support them through that period of time? Valley Children’s has an awesome staff of social workers supporting families,” she says. “Each one of them believes in the mission of the hospital and each is sincere in their desire to support families wherever they’re at in the course of their hospitalization.”
Margie’s dedication to unwavering support for families is evident when interacting with her. It’s palpable, genuine and inspiring. To the patients, families and care teams at Valley Children’s, she is an essential part of the structure of the organization, as integral to the hospital as the walls themselves.
Celebrate Social Work Month this March
March is National Social Work Month, a time to honor and celebrate the compassionate professionals in the field of social work. The dedicated team of social workers at Valley Children's help guide and support patients and families through the entire hospital experience. Social workers can help families understand diagnoses and treatment plans, as well as provide resources in the community for additional support services. Please join us in celebrating our wonderful team of social workers this March and beyond!