Shaler man honored for commitment to social work
Rod Rutkowski doesn't want praise for the work he does at UPMC St. Margaret, but his colleagues wanted to recognize him for his tireless commitment to medical social work.
“It's just that I believe in being able to help others,” Rutkowski said. “Being a social worker is not what I do, it's who I am.”
Rutkowski, director of health management at UPMC St. Margaret, was awarded the 2016 Outstanding Alumni Award from the University of Pittsburgh School of Social Work at the alumni luncheon and reception on Oct. 5.
The award recognizes alumni who use their social work degrees to bring excellence to their professional achievements and community service involvement and who have helped to advance the university's mission and goals.
Rutkowski originally is from Erie but settled in Shaler about 30 years ago. He earned bachelor's and master's degrees in social work from Pit and has worked at St. Margaret for 35 years: 23 years as a social worker, 10 as manager of social work and the last two as director of health management.
Medical social workers work with patients and their families to help them adjust to hospitalization or chronic illness and connect them with resources and programs. Rutkowski started his career in the field as a social worker, but now oversees social work, care management and community health programs for St. Margaret.
“My whole career I wouldn't think of doing anything else,” Rutkowski said. “It's very satisfying to me because nobody knows what's going to happen for them in life when they experience emergencies. It's good to have somebody to be there to help you and be a resource and guide you through some difficult times.”
Bobby Simmons, a faculty member at Pitt's School of Social Work and director of the Vankirk Career Center, said Rutkowski began a shadowing program several years ago that allows students from the School of Social Work to follow one of his social workers for a day.
“He really is a true social worker. He walks it, he talks it and it's all over him,” Simmons said.
UPMC St. Margaret officials highlighted one situation in particular this year in Rutkowski's nomination letter.
This past summer a long-distance truck driver traveling with his 9-year-old son was struck by intense leg pain that forced him to stop at the nearest hospital, which happened to be St. Margaret, said Denise Abernathy, clinical director of emergency services, care management and social work at UPMC St. Margaret.
A serious infection was discovered in one of the father's legs and required hospitalization, but his son would not be able to stay at the hospital during treatment. The father, concerned his son may be put in an emergency shelter or foster care, considered refusing treatment, Abernathy said.
Hearing the situation, Rutkowski located the child's aunt in Oklahoma City and was able to fly her to Pittsburgh, then fly the pair back to Oklahoma City until the father and son could be reunited. Rutkowski even secured help for the cost of airfare from the St. Margaret Foundation.
“It's those kind of things,” Abernathy said, that make Rutkowski so special. “You don't meet many people like that anymore.”
Abernathy is Rutkowski's direct supervisor and has known him for about a year and a half.
“He knows just who to call to get people the help they need,” she said. “He thinks about everybody else before himself always and he'll work 100 hours a week if he needs to. If there's an issue or concern, he's the first one to jump in and take control.”
Rachel Farkas is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.