Sacramento State alums and Marshall Medical Center social workers Amy Buchanan
(seated), Janice Curtin (standing, from left), Konnie Brown, Lhia Cassaza,
Ray Martinez and Kellie Curnutt.
Just a short drive up Highway 50 from Sacramento State, a dedicated group
of Hornets is hard at work helping the residents of El Dorado County navigate
some of life’s most difficult situations.
Six Sacramento State alumni and a faculty member, Robin Kennedy, are part
of the eight-member social worker staff at Placerville’s
Marshall Medical Center, one of around 40 independent, acute-care hospitals remaining in California.
And in a largely rural county that has one of the state’s highest
populations of elderly individuals, ensuring that patients have ready
access to this type of caregiver is increasingly critical.
“We tend to see [patients] at their most vulnerable – physically,
mentally, emotionally – and we get the opportunity to be present
in that moment with them, find a connection and empower them to figure
out where they are going and what they are doing,” says Lhia Casazza,
MSW ’96 (Social Work). It can be challenging work, she added, since
they must witness many of their patients pass away, but “we get
the experience and the opportunity and blessing to be with them and know
that we have some sort of impact on their lives, so they know they weren’t
Other alumni working at Marshall are Konnie Brown ’94, MSW ’03
(Social Work); Amy Buchanan ’04, MSW ’06 (Social Work); Kellie
Curnutt ’12, MSW ’14 (Social Work); Janice Curtin, MSW ’13
(Social Work); and Ray Martinez ’14, MSW ’16 (Social Work).
Casazza and Martinez reflect both the overall growth of social work at
Marshall and a national trend. When Casazza started at the hospital in
2005, her department didn’t visit the hospital’s emergency
room or OB/GYN section. Today, however, she and her colleagues are available
to patients throughout the hospital, and Martinez was hired last year
as the Marshall Cancer Resource Center’s first full-time social
worker. Curtin is an expert in the growing field of palliative care, which
focuses on improving the quality of life for patients, and their families,
facing advanced illness.
Martinez, who says he always has had a tendency to be the one to bring
up difficult topics of conversation, was working as a paralegal in a law
office that helped struggling individuals, many of them homeless, obtain
social services. That’s when he developed an interest in social work.
“I wanted to understand what’s going on in their minds, and
social work gave me a reference point for learning more about what they
were dealing with in terms of homelessness, or having appointments to
go to, or the lack of support they had to deal with,” he says.
Casazza and Martinez said the classes they took at Sacramento State provided
a solid foundation of basic skills, which they were able to put into practice
when they had the opportunity to participate in internships while still
students. And the University’s location in California’s capital
city provided an additional benefit for Martinez.
“[The National Association of Social Workers] has social work lobby
days in April, and I went to that one year,” he says. “I learned
what it takes to lobby for a bill, to go in front of a legislative aid
and talk about a bill what was important to social work.”
The advice they have for current Hornets looking to become social workers?
Don’t forget to take care of yourself, especially as you work with
patients who are struggling; be sure to network; and advocate for your
interests when it comes to internship opportunities.
“As far as the studying for those going through it, hang in there.
It’s a lot to go through,” Casazza says. “And be proud
when you get there. It’s an accomplishment.
Sacramento State’s Division of Social Work was founded in 1964 and
offers undergraduate and graduate degree programs as well as continuing
education programs to the professional social work community.
Learn more at the division’s website.