Research Reveals Disparity in Social Work Support in Health & Senior Care between Urban and Rural Alberta
May 7, 2024

Alberta, Canada – Researchers from Portage College and Northern Lakes College have completed a comprehensive two-year study focusing on the roles of Social Workers in Health and Senior Care across Alberta. The findings highlight a significant disparity in the availability and training of social workers between urban and rural settings. Everyone is welcome to attend the online rollout of the research project results on May 21, where results and recommendations will be discussed.

“I am exceedingly proud of the study that Portage College and Northern Lakes have completed. While there are often anecdotal examples of disparities that can occur between rural and urban services, having concrete data is the first step in bringing forward the issues in a way that can foster meaningful dialogue and hopefully bring forward change,” said Dr. Feledichuk, Vice President Academic and Research at Portage College. “Research Lead, Dr. Orr, has done an exemplary job leading a strong research team to understand this complex and multifaceted issue.”

Researchers surveyed social workers employed in health and senior care settings throughout Alberta, shedding light on their roles in supporting the social and emotional well-being of patients and residents. They also surveyed managers of health and senior care facilities across Alberta to determine who provides social/emotional care to patients, residents, and their families.

Key findings from the study found that in urban healthcare settings, social workers predominantly link patients to resources, participate in multidisciplinary teams, provide psycho-social assessments, offer counselling, and support patients with chronic illnesses.

In urban senior care settings, social workers play a crucial role in linking residents and families to resources, providing psycho-social assessments, manage transitions in care, handle caseload management, support residents with dementia and their families, address financial and legal issues, and educate staff on chronic disease management, transitions in care, and end-of-life issues.

In rural health and senior care settings, the roles that social workers typically fulfill in urban areas are often carried out by staff members who lack the necessary training. Alarmingly, in rural senior care settings, social workers are virtually nonexistent. Managers from these settings cited lack of funding as the primary obstacle to providing professional social-emotional care for patients.

Recommendations from the study call for immediate action to prioritize social and emotional care, supporting the mental health of individuals in health and senior care facilities in rural Alberta.

“The results of this study have implications for social work education, particularly for what we consider to be generalist social work education. They also have implications for rural social work practicums and the need to work with practicum sites to understand the roles that social workers can fulfil,” explains Dr. Tracy Orr, Research Lead, Portage College, Community Social Work. “At a provincial level, advocacy for supporting mental health in rural health and senior care facilities is crucial to ensure that social work graduates can contribute to their communities in these service sectors.”

To further discuss and elaborate on the study's findings and recommendations, an online rollout of the research project results is scheduled.

Date: Tuesday, May 21st

Time: 1:00 p.m. to 2:30 p.m.

Online Meeting Link: Join Teams Meeting

All interested parties are invited to join this online event to hear the complete set of recommendations and engage in a meaningful discussion about the future of social work in health and senior care in Alberta.

The researchers extend their gratitude to FCSS Lac La Biche and the Rural Development Network for their invaluable support in the early stages of this project.

For more information about the research project:

Dr. Tracy Orr, Research Lead
780-623-5529 or Email

Media inquiries:

Portage College Corporate Communications Department
780-623-6671 or E-mail

We acknowledge that Portage College’s service region is on the traditional lands of First Nation Peoples, the owners of Treaty 6, 8 and 10, which are also homelands to the Métis people. We honour the history and culture of all people who first lived and gathered in these lands.
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