We are excited to share our latest newsletter feature called, “A Conversation With…”, a monthly discussion with one of the many people who are on the front lines and who contribute to Halo House’s success in some fashion. We hope you enjoy this first installment of A Conversation With… Tracey Reeves, MSW, LCSW.
Tracey Reeves, a licensed clinical social worker just celebrated her 20-year anniversary at Methodist Hospital in Houston, TX. I sat down with Tracey to discuss her role in the lives of patients and how she is connected to Halo House.
Where did you go to school and why did you choose to become a social worker?
I received my Bachelor of Psychology degree from Texas A&M (gig em) in 1988. My degree focused solely on psychological conditions and I soon realized that what I was really interested in was focusing on the strengths of a person and not just the pathology or causes and effects of someone’s condition. At that point, I decided to obtain my Masters degree in Social Work which I completed in 1991.
How did you end up at Methodist Hospital?
While receiving my master’s degree, I interned for a year at Methodist where I received valuable experience and was impressed by the organization and their contribution to the medical community. There are various licensing categories in social work and after working at Methodist under supervision for a few years, I received my clinical social work license in 1995 and transitioned into my role as a transplant social worker. I worked primarily with heart… and lung transplant patients, then kidney transplant patients and living kidney donors. Also, having a clinical license means that I can see patients in private practice so generally, clinical social workers have experience in providing therapy and various interventions to clients.
How did you become involved with blood cancer patients?
An opportunity opened up in 2018 at the Houston Methodist Cancer Center to work with the bone marrow transplant team and that’s where I am now. As you know, there are two types of bone marrow transplant recipients – autologous, where the patient is the donor of the stem cells and allogeneic, where someone other than the patient is the donor. I have learned so much about blood cancers and have been privileged to serve patients as they navigate their difficult treatments.
So, what exactly do you do as a patient’s social worker?
When a patient is referred to their bone marrow transplant specialist, part of their medical workup for transplant involves meeting with various team members including a social worker. My role is to assess each individual’s unique situation and help them anticipate needs throughout the treatment process. Having cancer is scary and life-changing so the first thing I concentrate on is helping the patient with any coping difficulties or areas where emotional assistance is needed. Depression and anxiety can occur with chronic illnesses, so the team works together help patients overcome these conditions. I might also connect patients and their families to organizations in the community offering support and educations for patients, caregivers and children. I also screen for addictions which can complicate a patient’s medical course and educate patients about treatment options and resources that can help. Mostly I help educate the patient and family about the transplant process and help them anticipate needs which include caregiver assistance and sometimes the need for housing close to the treatment center. Having a chronic illness like cancer means patients have extra costs and financial concerns frequently come up. I am often referring patients to appropriate community resources for grants and relocation options such as Halo House.
I’m glad you brought up Halo House. Tell me a little about your experience with us.
Halo House is a wonderful service organization available to our patients! As you know, if someone is going through a stem cell transplant then they need to be within minutes of their hospital or treatment facility – sometimes for months at a time. Hotels and other apartments are costly – most charge up to $2000 or $3000 a month – and that cost on top of the other costs of this disease like deductibles, copays, parking at the Texas Medical Center, food, etc. add up. Setting up a second household is very costly and out of the reach of many. We are very fortunate to have Halo House here in Houston where families can live in a fully furnished apartment for just $25 a day. They can literally just move in with their clothes in a suitcase and be right at home. Everything else is already there and provided for them, including a shuttle to and from the medical center. Other benefits include a secure facility with gated parking, shuttle service to and from TMC, and a supportive environment. Patients and their caregivers have the added advantage of the camaraderie with other families going through the same stresses. We are really fortunate to have Halo House in Houston!
Why do you feel that Halo House is so important to blood cancer patients in particular?
The Texas Medical Center is huge, and doctors hear all the time from their patients that there are not enough housing options here. Dr. Fowler heard this complaint and gathered friends and family to do something about it and that is how Halo House came about. For patients and their families, being able to be in their own apartment during their treatment is hugely important not only from an emotional standpoint but also from an infection standpoint. Other housing options provide just a room with communal kitchens which is not ideal for blood cancer patients because of their susceptibility to infection.
Any final thoughts on your role as a social worker?
I appreciate and feel very privileged to be able to work with these families. As a social worker, I don’t often get to get to be around families when they receive good news so anything I can do to make their load easier in the meantime is something that I am grateful to be able to do. I deal with people when they are in crisis and so my goal is to get them back into balance so they can focus on the next thing in front of them. I’m happy to be a resource for people and I’m so thankful that I can refer patients and their families to Halo House.