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San Diego Hero: Wiara Jackson

How the lead medical social worker at Sharp Chula Vista stands up for patients

By Kai Oliver-Kurtin | Photography by Robert Benson

San Diego Hero: Wiara Jackson

San Diego Hero: Wiara Jackson

Wiara Jackson | Lead Medical Social Worker, Sharp Chula Vista Medical Center

For several grueling years, a young Wiara Jackson watched her grandmother suffer through cancer treatments, bouncing between hospitals and nursing facilities to treat the disease that began in her lungs and spread to her brain.

“I was only 10 or 11 years old, but I could see how confused and frustrated my grandmother and our family was in accessing medical benefits for her. I won­dered why the process was so difficult, especially when she was so sick.”

The experience gave her a firsthand glimpse into how complicated our health care system can be to navigate, let alone for vulnerable seniors who don’t often have support systems helping them. Knowing that her grandmother and elders like her deserve better, more accessible care, Jackson was determined to become an advocate.

Fourteen years later, she’s now a certified case manager and licensed clinical social worker serving at Sharp Chula Vista Medical Center and volunteering with nonprofits, including South Bay Community Services and Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater San Diego, as well as local elementary schools. Her goal is to close the gap in services for those most in need—the homeless population, people with disabilities, and seniors. The obstacle? Lack of resources like affordable medication and accessible transportation—and that’s just scratching the surface.

When the hepatitis A epidemic hit San Diego last year, Jackson saw the number of infected homeless patients being admitted to the hospital for treatment. To help combat this, she applied for and received a grant to create “Sharp Chula Vista Cares” packages for homeless patients, which include a bacteria-resistant thermal blanket, toiletries, socks, and feminine hygiene products.

“Who doesn’t want to be clean, brush their teeth, have clean socks, and feel good about themselves?” Jackson says. “No matter what walk of life you come from, you deserve dignity.”

Many of Jackson’s patients deal with disabilities, depression, and suicidal thoughts as a result of trauma or domestic abuse. Others need assistance locating family members or are dealing with end-of-life issues—a particularly memorable one was a Holocaust survivor in her eighties who was separated from her family at a young age during the war. Most of her friends had died, Jackson explains, and because of vision problems she was unable to drive. Feeling isolated, lonely, and overwhelmed, the patient was often brought to tears. Enter Jackson, who was able to arrange for delivered meals, transportation, and a daily visitor to conduct welfare checks.

“A lot of seniors make a smidge more than the limit for Medi-Cal, which leaves them unable to afford any medical care.”

She’s especially determined to help those who have run out of other options. When other health care professionals had essentially written off one couple because of the husband’s abrasive personality, Jackson helped them secure transportation services and reconnect with family for additional support. “It made me feel a sense of accomplishment not only to help them, but to find out who they are as people, and not just judge them right off the bat,” she says. “You don’t know what people are going through or how hard their life has been. Just listening can make a huge difference.”

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