Meet Riley's Oncology Social Workers

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Alex Long and Beth Zaberdac

Did you know donations through Riley Children’s Foundation cover 75 percent of the funding for the Riley Hospital Social Work team?

We are celebrating YOUR impact on kids as we celebrate National Social Work month in March. Today, we shine a spotlight on two social workers who serve cancer patients at Riley Hospital for Children―work that would not be possible without your generosity.

MEET BETH ZABERDAC: “I am amazed watching the strength of families.”

Beth Zaberdac, MSW, LSW, has been with the Riley Social Work team since May after completing her fellowship with them. Her passion for social work in a pediatric hospital setting began when she was a teenager growing up in the southern Indiana town of St. Anthony. Her father was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer and needed treatment at University Hospital in Indianapolis. Beth and her family spent lots of time walking through all the hospitals on the IU Health downtown campus, including Riley, and that sparked an interest that never left her. 

After completing a degree in psychiatry at Indiana University, she pursued a Master’s in Social Work at IUPUI, and her fellowship at Riley solidified her career vision. “It was a great experience,” says Zaberdac. “I realized this is where I wanted to be. I was hired to cover all outpatient clinics at Riley, and when the job in oncology opened up it felt like everything was falling into place. I never looked back.”

Zaberdac says forming close relationships with families during their cancer journeys is a gift. “Oncology is special in the social work world in that we follow families all the way from diagnosis through treatment. I appreciate the power of being a part of that moment in their lives, and being a source of support for people who never wanted to be here, but this is where the world took us. I am amazed watching the strength of families who never thought they could do it―the power of parents and the power of our children.” 


It’s hard to sum up the impact of Social Workers at Riley, but every day, they help families bridge gaps, overcome obstacles and cope with the trauma of their child’s medical issues. “One of the big things I’ve spent time on lately has been new diagnoses,” says Zaberdac. “We meet families one or two days after they get a cancer diagnosis and we spend time supporting them, being in the moment and right where they need to be. Some families just need someone to cry to, some want to know everything. We do a lot of outpatient work as well in the clinic, helping with financial needs, helping families arrange to get home from appointments, and even entertaining kids as parents ask questions to the medical team. I don’t know how the hospital would function without the psychosocial team. These are kids. They have a diagnosis, and they need their doctors, but they need to be kids. The money Riley Children’s Foundation is able to provide allows us to focus on helping all of the families’ needs.”

MEET ALEX LONG: “We are on the front lines when families go into survival mode.”

Alex Long, MSW, LSW, attended Pike High School in Indianapolis, where one of her psychology classes sparked her interest in a career within that field. “At the same time, I had friends with significant mental health issues, and I was becoming that friend who was known as the person to go to for advice,” says Long. “It started to develop as a strong interest. I wanted to be able to do that for other people as well.”

Long majored in Human Development and Family Studies at Indiana University with minors in psychology and dance. Before starting graduate school for Social Work at IUPUI, she worked for one year for behavioral health company, serving at a middle school as a life skills specialist. She ultimately gravitated toward the health care setting for social work, and was eager to join the Riley Social Work team after completing her fellowship with them. 

“The health care setting is fast paced, it’s exciting,” says Long. “I really like how the interdisciplinary teams are set up. We work so closely with doctors, nurses, and everybody on the medical team. You learn something new every single day. It keeps you on your toes and I really enjoy that.” 

Long says she is often in a position to help the Riley Cancer Center medical team better understand a family’s emotional needs and viewpoints. “We are asked to be a part of a lot of tough conversations. We get called in when the physicians may not understand where a parent is coming from, and they need us to do more digging to assess for barriers, and find out what they need help with. I recently sat down with a mom who is having a very tough time, and whose child has been on a long treatment journey. A lot of what we do is advocacy, bridging back to medical team to let them know what the family needs. It is a beautiful partnership to hear from a physician, ‘I trust your opinion, what did you learn from meeting with Mom?’” 


“I know much of what we are able to do because of donations has been life-changing for these families,” says Long. “Without the support we are able to provide because of Riley Children’s Foundation donors, I don’t know what they would do. We are problem solvers. We are on the front lines when families go into survival mode. Many times the question I hear from parents is, ‘I can’t work because I have to take care of my child here at Riley – what can I do?’ They have other children at home, they have bills to pay, they have jobs, and they may live hours away. With the help of Riley Children’s Foundation donors and the emergency funding they provide families through our Social Work team, we can provide a bit of a pause button to help families piece things together. We can take a breath and figure it out. I can’t tell you how many times a day I say, ‘I don’t know, but I will figure it out.’”

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Riley Blogger

The Riley Blog is written and/or edited by members of the Riley Children's Foundation Communications Staff.

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