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With a long resumé in the field of healthcare, Marilyn Oertley manages the Institute on Aging, Central Illinois Pain Center and Wound Healing and Hyperbaric Center at OSF Saint Francis Center for Health.

Marilyn Oertley grew up in Rock Island, Illinois, where her father owned an office equipment company at which her mother also worked. Working there during the summers while in high school, Oertley found that she really enjoyed assisting clients with their business needs. “It was a good orientation to modern workplace ethics and client-centered service,” she said.

During this time, Oertley’s aunt was diagnosed and treated for brain cancer. “Her experience was devastating, but a hospital social worker was very supportive to her and our family. Her counseling and help with home care needs improved my aunt’s quality of life and helped our family cope with a very difficult time.” It was this experience that introduced her to medical social work and the tremendous benefits of such a field.

After high school graduation, Oertley headed off to major in social work at the University of Illinois. There, she received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees, concentrating on administration, supervision and consultation specialty tracks, in addition to meeting her husband, Tom.

After graduation, her husband was hired by Caterpillar, and she applied for a job at what was then known as St. Francis Hospital. Hired as a second-shift admission clerk, she learned the hospital’s infrastructure and became a staff social worker within a year. Several years later, Oertley was promoted to Director of Social Service.

Transitioning into the hospital setting was natural for Oertley. She said that assisting patients, their families, and the doctors and nurses treating them is very fulfilling. The setting demands medical social workers to be “solid communicators, team players and patient advocates with goal-oriented enthusiasm.” She also noted that flexibility and being open-minded are also very important to the job.

Oertley also worked at the Peoria City/County Health Department for eight years. Her position there involved coordinating maternal-child health programs to pregnant women, infants and children. “It was especially satisfying to plan, develop and supervise programs with community impact,” she said. During this time, Oertley also had the opportunity to develop and manage the Health Department’s satellite site in south Peoria, which operated for 10 years in collaboration with the Neighborhood House.

While work at the public health department was designed to impact overall community health by targeting at-risk individuals and groups of people, hospital-based social workers are more concerned with the social and psychological issues and their relationship to disease management. “Both support healthy communities— one through population-based programs and the [other] through individualized acute and chronic care,” Oertley noted.

After returning to the hospital setting, Oertley worked on a Lap-Band bariatric weight-loss project. Because weight loss and healthy lifestyles have become such common medical issues, it is important that patients who receive bariatric surgery are also mentally and emotionally equipped to handle the accompanying stresses. For this reason, hospitals have established programs which “support healthy lifestyle change, weight loss maintenance and support group help.” Oertley is one of the many individuals who work with these patients to provide a “comprehensive array of services.”

Oertley currently manages the OSF Saint Francis Center for Health’s Institute on Aging and the Central Illinois Pain Center. The Institute on Aging is an outpatient program specializing in the assessment and treatment of problems such as memory loss, dementia, depression, incontinence, osteoporosis, falls, limited mobility and medication management. The Institute’s staff includes a geriatric physician, geriatric nurse practitioner, registered nurse, dietitian and licensed clinical social worker.

The Central Illinois Pain Center is an out-patient facility with a multidisciplinary approach to reducing chronic pain, such as back pain, headaches, injury-related pain, arthritis, and joint and muscle pain. When traditional and conservative treatment plans have been ineffective in relieving pain, patients are referred to the Pain Center. Included in its services is a Day Treatment Program, designed to assist patients unable to perform daily functions at home or work. The program helps patients manage chronic pain with individualized services such as medical care; counseling; biofeedback and relaxation training; exercise; massage; and physical, occupational and nutrition therapy.

Oertley noted that because 50 to 60 million Americans suffer from chronic pain, it is a leading public health problem—and the most common symptom that prompts people to seek medical care. “Much emphasis has been placed on the biopsychosocial impact of pain,” she said. “Effective pain treatment requires a multidisciplinary approach, which may include counseling, biofeedback, weight loss, physical and occupational therapies…Early treatment helps prevent pain from worsening and developing into other problems like depression or disability.”

The Institute on Aging focuses on a very important aspect of health, as Oertley notes that the fastest-growing segment of our population is age 85 and over. Because of this, she said, “The safe use of medicine among seniors is an important public health issue.”

Oertley lists several health problems which can lead to medication misuse among seniors: arthritis, limited eyesight and cognitive decline. “In addition, many seniors take multiple medications prescribed by different providers, as well as over-the-counter, herbal, vitamin or nutritional supplements. When these chemicals are combined or taken incorrectly, risk exists for serious interaction and absorption problems.” The Institute helps senior patients and their family members and caregivers develop individualized plans for drug management and overall care.

OSF Saint Francis is set to open a Wound Healing and Hyperbaric Center (WHHC) at the Center for Health in March. Managed by Oertley, the facility will provide an interdisciplinary model of clinical wound care and hyperbaric treatment under the medical direction of Dr. Andrew Chiou. An on-site team of physicians, nurses, and dietetic, respiratory and physical therapy professionals will play a significant role in treating chronic wound conditions.

“Wound care is an important field of medical care, since many adults suffer with wounds that resist healing,” said Oertley. “Some people have conditions or injuries that impede the normal healing process, and thereby risk developing a chronic wound condition. When tissue becomes badly damaged, destructive processes can outpace healing. At this point, both mobility and quality of life can be affected.”

Hyperbaric treatment involves a chamber that distributes pressurized air to compromised tissue, increasing the level of oxygen delivered to damaged tissue sites and aiding the wound healing process. The WHHC will have two hyperbaric oxygen therapy chambers managed by clinicians trained in hyperbaric treatment.

Oertley has also served as a political volunteer for State Representatives David Leitch and Aaron Schock. She said that a personal dilemma prompted her to seek guidance from Rep. Leitch’s office, where she was “impacted by his diligent support in resolving [her] problem.” She has since held local office with the National Association of Social Workers and was appointed to the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation Social Work Examining and Disciplinary Board and the Illinois Department of Human Resources Medicaid Reimbursement Task Force. These roles have given her the opportunity to access Rep. Leitch’s office on advocacy issues, such as maternal and child health service delivery, mental health parity and professional regulation in the state of Illinois.

“I’ve learned that initiatives fueled by passion can be guided by a committed political champion,” Oertley said. In 2006, she co-drafted the HR220 report to the Illinois General Assembly, a prelude to the current SB1739, which “promotes Medicaid coverage for licensed clinical social workers’ mental health service in all Illinois settings. This legislation passed in August 2007 and extends much-needed mental health care throughout Illinois.”

Oertley also frequently lectures on clinical ethics at area colleges, noted that her interest in the subject has grown over the past 11 years. In that time, she has served as the chairperson of the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation, Social Work Examining and Disciplinary Board. In reviewing complaints about social workers’ clinical behavior and disciplining when necessary, Oertley was struck by “how vulnerable mental health professionals are to unethical conduct. With that in mind,” she explained, “I’ve chosen to further research the topic, lecture and ‘refresh’ social workers’ memory about current issues in ethics.”

Oertley says that new and veteran social workers alike need refresher courses in professional conduct and ethics, especially about “blind spots.” According to her, “Blind spots result from distorted thinking and can lead to complex ethical and legal difficulty. These dilemmas impair judgment and commonly develop into problems involving boundary issues, impairment, incompetence, exploitation and confidentiality violation.”

Oertley is a member of the National Association of Social Workers, the American Board of Examiners in Clinical Social Work, the American Pain Society and the American Academy of Pain Management. Regionally, she is a board member of the Arthritis Foundation, Greater Illinois Chapter; the Social Work Advisory Board at Bradley University and the Healthcare Specialization Board at the University of Illinois, Champaign- Urbana.

In her free time, Oertley enjoys playing tennis and speed walking, and tries her hand at golf. She and her husband enjoy maintaining their large yard and extensive landscaping and take the chance to ski whenever it snows. They also thoroughly enjoy traveling to interesting destinations and visiting family in Iowa and Chicago. TPW

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