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Children's Mercy Nephrology Social Workers establish an award-winning tradition of excellence

Nephrology Social Workers Kelli Scott (left) and Cristina Hernandez (right)

Nephrology Social Workers Cristina Hernandez, LCSW, LMSW and Kelli Scott, LCSW, LMSW, share an office in the kidney dialysis unit, and soon they also will share the distinction of winning a national award that has become something of a tradition for Nephrology social workers at Children’s Mercy.

Cristina recently was named the recipient of the National Kidney Foundation’s (NKF) 2019 Award for Social Work in a Pediatric Setting. Kelli won the NKF award last year, making it two years in a row for Children’s Mercy and the fourth time in history that a Children's Mercy Nephrology social worker has won the award. Bradley Warady, MD, Division Director-Pediatric Nephrology and Director of Dialysis and Transplantation, said it is unprecedented for the same hospital to win this prestigious NKF national award two years in a row, and four times total.


Nephrology Social Workers Kelli Scott (left) and Cristina Hernandez (right) won back-to-back "Awards for Social Work in a Pediatric Setting" from the National Kidney Foundation, making Children's Mercy the only institution to win the national award two years in an row and four times total.


“Cristina and Kelli are indispensable members of our dialysis and transplant team,” Dr. Warady said. “The fact that they are back-to-back recipients of the NKF award not only highlights their exceptional performance, but it also emphasizes how lucky we are to have them both at Children’s Mercy.”

Cristina will receive the award at the NKF 2019 spring meeting in Boston; Kelli was honored at the NKF’s 2018 spring meeting in Austin, Texas. Cristina was on hand for Kelli’s big day, and Kelli will be in Boston to cheer for her colleague and office-mate next spring in Boston.

Kelli and Cristina both provide social work services for dialysis and kidney transplant patients. They work closely with this patient population to provide ongoing psychosocial assessment and care coordination. Every day is a bit different for them: this often includes providing emotional support to the patient and families as they adjust to their diagnosis and start down the transplant path, which often includes dialysis. They work to connect patients with resources that may be able to benefit them. They provide in-depth education, ongoing support and advocacy related to many topics, including medication adherence, care planning and advance directives to name a few. Kelli and Cristina also work closely with patients and their families to ensure educational needs are being met and insurance issues are addressed. They are integral members of the medical team, so communication with the medical team is a key component of the work they do.

Both Cristina and Kelli attribute the success of nephrology social work at Children's Mercy to the support of the Nephology program and medical team.

“Our Children’s Mercy Nephrology program really values social work, and I don’t know that every Nephrology program has that,” Kelli said. “We get the opportunity to participate fully in the patient’s care, and our opinions are valued. I think they value our perspective and our advocacy for our patients because it’s helping them achieve their medical goals.”

Helping families adjust

Cristina said, “I would echo that; just to be valued, to be looked to as an expert in our field, helping families adjust to kidney disease. I think the medical staff appreciates that we remind them that this is more than a dialysis patient or kidney transplant patient…they have other stressors in their lives, and kidney disease is just one component of who they are.”

Those stressors, Kelli said, are often related to the fact that, “Many of our patients often don’t come from psychosocially stable families. Our families have so many other stressors in their lives that they’re just trying to work through daily, and then you add in dialysis or a transplant, it can be extremely difficult to manage.”

Life-changing disease

“It’s a difficult and invasive disease to adjust to, and incredibly life-changing,” Cristina said. “With dialysis, you could be here 14 hours a week, and when you add in all the other appointments involved, it’s almost like a part-time job; these kids are also going to school, may have a real part-time job and other family obligations. Getting their medical needs met involves a lot of complications and adversity to overcome.”

Kelli added, “And it’s often hard for patients to realize that transplant is just a treatment, not a cure; they’re most likely going to have to require another transplant in their life. So it’s not necessarily the end of dialysis.”

Cristina, who has been at Children’s Mercy for four years, has witnessed kidney disease first-hand in her family; her mother was a dialysis patient.“My mom was on dialysis, so this kind of work always had a special tug on my heart,” Cristina said. “I’ve been lucky in that having a family member on dialysis, I can see the other piece of it. It really helped me understand the journey a patient with kidney disease goes through. I was a child welfare social worker before I came here, and I’ve just always had a passion to work with kids and their families.”

Kelli, who has been at Children's Mercy for six years, has a cousin who had a kidney transplant, but she said that didn’t influence her decision to enter the field. She began her career in the mental health area, then became interested in obtaining her master’s degree in social work. She started in the GI Clinic at Children's Mercy, then moved to Nephrology social work when the opportunity arose.

“I enjoy working with families on an ongoing basis, and I just really like working with this population,” Kelli said. “I see myself being in this position for a long time.”

Congratulations to Cristina and Kelli for continuing a tradition of excellence at Children’s Mercy!


Learn more about the Division of Pediatric Nephrology at Children's Mercy.