Thrive by IU Health

May 21, 2020

Transplant manager joins forces to help COVID-19 patients, families

IU Health Methodist Hospital

Transplant manager joins forces to help COVID-19 patients, families

After nearly 30 years working with IU Health’s Transplant Program, Linda Munsch has temporarily switched roles, volunteering to help with the palliative care team.

By IU Health Senior Journalist T.J. Banes, tfender1@iuhealth.org

She’s lost track of the numbers - the best Linda Munsch can guess is she has seen hundreds of patients a year.

It was 1992 when Munsch answered a classified ad for a social worker with IU Health’s transplant program. She never left. For 13 years she worked in patient care before becoming the transplant ambulatory manager. In that role she oversees the transplant outpatient team – including transplant coordinators, social workers, perfusionists, and administrative support staff members.

But weeks ago when the COVID-19 pandemic broke out, she volunteered to change up her role as a healthcare provider. She joined the palliative care team at IU Health Methodist Hospital providing support to physicians and advanced practice providers. She works directly with patients diagnosed with COVID-19, or those at risk of contracting the virus. There have been many difficult conversations with patients and family members about next steps. Munsch is there – wearing her hat as a social worker – helping with those difficult conversations.

“It’s important work and it’s something there is a need for,” said Munsch. “I felt I could help fill that need in some way. I think there are a lot of people here just doing the work that needs to be done. Yes, it can be difficult but it’s also rewarding when you’re helping someone, even when it might be an end-of-life conversation. We never know the outcome but we’re helping them get through it whatever the outcome is.”

Throughout her career Munsch has learned much about difficult conversations. Her career as social worker started with abdominal transplant patients. She worked specifically with pancreas and liver transplant patients.

“I wasn’t always popular. Some of the patients had made lifestyle choices that led to their transplant so I was in a role that encouraged them to find help for substance abuse,” said Munsch. She remembers at least one patient who later returned to thank her for having that difficult conversation. His outcome was positive – he became sober, was transplanted and went on to live a healthy life.

IU Health abdominal transplant program is ranked among the top in the nation. More than 500 transplants are performed on average every year, including heart, lungs, kidney, liver, pancreas, and intestine.

Munsch became interested in healthcare at an early age. She worked as a hospital candy striper and initially thought about pursuing a career in nursing.

“As I began to explore options I thought that social work was a better fit for me,” said Munsch. “I thought I’d become a high school guidance counselor but then I got into the hospital setting and here I am.”

In her role with the palliative care team, Munsch joins a dedicated group of healthcare providers including physicians, social workers, nurses, nurse practitioners, chaplains, and other support staff members. The focus is on providing patient comfort and helping loved ones cope with illness. That comfort can take many forms – easing symptoms of pain, nausea, anxiety, and breathing problems, and providing emotional and spiritual support.

Visitor restrictions during COVID-19 have created new challenges for patients and families. Communication is now done primarily via telephone or video.

“I get direction from physicians and nurses on the palliative care team. They tell me what they need and I help support that,” said Munsch. “The medical providers are incredibly busy with so many very sick patients. I’m there to help them tell mom or dad that their loved one is thinking of them and to discuss the patient’s care. That’s the most important thing I can do.”

When she’s not at the hospital, Munsch enjoys spending time with her husband, Ed, a firefighter and EMT. The couple has two children – a daughter 25, and a son, 21. She unwinds by hanging out with her three dogs, sewing, and reading.

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