While singing the praises of our dedicated case workers during the coronavirus pandemic, I have received numerous inquiries from readers who do not know what case workers do in hospital and post-care settings. Apparently, the critical role of medical social workers is not clear to the general public. I thought it best, therefore, to let them speak for themselves.
Kunbi Oluwasusi – Traveling Medical Social Worker
“As a travel social worker, you expect to work through plenty of challenging situations. After all, most of the time I'm working to ensure that my patients are being helped out of dire situations; routine cases in my field can feel like a true crisis…There's a saying in social work: ‘You have to laugh to keep from crying.’
“I work to provide support and advocacy for everyone in the hospital that needs it, from babies spending their first days in the NICU to elders in “end-of-life” care. I also continue to serve those who face issues like homelessness or substance abuse, issues that feel doubly urgent during a time when social distancing orders have swept through the state…
“Whatever they need after they leave the hospital's care — referral to a shelter or a medical health clinic, access to a food pantry, assets from a government assistance office, entrance into a rehab facility or hospice services — I work to facilitate.”
Nicole Brown – Community Case Worker
“For many months, social service workers have been on the frontlines of promotive, preventative and treatment services during COVID-19 to ensure the health and well-being of the people they serve. In countries where many individuals are infected, workers are ensuring they have access to needed services, providing remote counseling, and organizing ways to overcome isolation. In other communities, workers are distributing factual information to dispel myths and fears, reaching out to agencies to assist with preparedness, ensuring inclusive planning efforts and advocating to governments for increased support.”
Laura S Abrams, PhD & Alan J Dettlaff, PhD
“Direct service practitioners are bearing witness to the struggles of the most vulnerable and isolated in our society. In hospitals, as family and friends are not allowed to visit their loved ones, social workers are handling the emotional fabric of grief and loss—both related and unrelated to COVID-19. One palliative care social worker spoke of the emotional toll of coordinating video visits between patients and their loved ones. She is striving to connect families via new technology while knowing that people are still suffering and dying alone…
“Social workers are also aware that they will see their clients get infected, lack access to quality health care, and die without recognition. This is the case for the social worker conducting psychiatric street outreach for homeless people in LA’s notorious “Skid Row.” This social worker has prepared her team for the reality that they may be the last people to witness and honor their clients’ core humanity. She stated that due to the unprecedented nature of the pandemic, social workers are “building the bridge as they are crossing it…
“Social workers are making moment-by-moment decisions about how to exercise the core ethical principles of the profession. One social worker discussed her decision to either wear her PPE or frighten her three-year-old client in foster care…in the end, she decided that her duty to her client took priority and took off her mask.”
A Better Feel
In this limited space it is impossible to cover the scope of the work that social workers take on to support our most vulnerable populations during a medical emergency, but I hope these testimonies by front-line social workers give you a better feel for the role of social workers in this public health crisis. They certainly deserve our attention.