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Strategies for Avoiding Empathy Fatigue and Developing Emotional Resiliency During the Pandemic

The Social Work Hospice and Palliative Care Network (SWHPN) applauds the recent decision by the FDA to approve the Pfizer vaccine, Comirnaty, for protection from COVID-19 for people aged 16 and older. The alarming rise in COVID-19 cases over the past several weeks due to the Delta variant is a stark reminder of the serious health threat the virus poses, particularly for the elderly, individuals with underlying medical conditions, and children that cannot yet be vaccinated.

SWHPN strongly encourages all social workers in hospice and palliative care settings to be vaccinated against COVID-19 to protect themselves, their coworkers, their patients, and their families. COVID-19 vaccines are safe and highly effective at mitigating the risk of infection, especially when paired with other scientifically-backed measures like frequent hand washing and mask-wearing. Vaccinated individuals are protecting themselves by reducing the spread of the virus. All SWHPN Staff members are fully vaccinated.

We also know that there are many reasons some people may have for their vaccine hesitancy, including historical health abuses due to race and gender, lack of paid time off, lack of childcare, and disinformation campaigns on television and social media. There are also people who are unable to take the vaccine due to pre-existing conditions, and yet will be safer as more people are vaccinated. We strongly encourage social workers to take steps to enhance vaccine access for everyone, to ensure we achieve the goal of herd immunity as quickly as possible. 

Finally, we know that navigating ERs and ICUs that are filling with patients that need critical medical support, tending to families that cannot visit in-person, and helping hospital colleagues that are fatigued and stressed can lead to empathy fatigue. We hope that you are finding ways to build up your own reservoir of emotional resilience and taking breaks when you can to recharge.
If you are looking for ideas, or have some tried-and-true tips to share, we invite you to join us for our next CE webinar, an interactive conversation on Tuesday, September 14 at 5 pm EST / 2 pm PST, “Strategies for Avoiding Empathy Fatigue and Developing Emotional Resiliency During the Pandemic.” Registration is here. Current SWHPN Members can attend free of charge. 
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SWHPN Conference Committee Update: #SWHPN22 to be held in Santa Fe April 24-26

Continuing our blog series of updates from SWHPN's committees, our latest update is from the SWHPN Conference Committee. As one of SWHPN's longest-running committees, this group is responsible for all aspects of the organization's signature annual Assembly that, pre-COVID, brought together hundreds of social work professionals from across the country for several days of professional development, collaboration-building, and networking.

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Professional Development and Leadership for Palliative & Hospice Social Workers: Report on the APHSW Certification Program

Since the APHSW-C Program started in 2019, approximately 500 social workers have become APHSW-C! We had an incredible start for the first exam periods. The pandemic has made things more difficult with limited test sites since last winter/spring. However, now most test sites are open and ready to provide exams.

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SWHPN Strategic Engagement Committee Update: Building Connections & Advancing Social Work in HAPC

Beginning this week, SWHPN will begin posting weekly updates from our committees, to highlight the important work each is doing to help advance the organization’s mission. This series is being launched by our Strategic Engagement committee, and the following was written by Jennifer Hirsch, LMSW and PhD candidate.

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SWHPN Announces Seven New Board Members

SWHPN held elections for its Board of Directors in March 2021 and is excited to announce the addition of seven new members. Read the full press release here.

Tanisha Bowman, MSW, LSW, APHSW-C, a native of the Northern Virginia area, first attended Northern Virginia Community College where she earned her associate's degree in social science with a Deaf specialization, as well as a career studies certificate in American Sign Language. She then went on to graduate in May 2015 from George Mason University with her BSW. Following her graduation from GMU, Tanisha moved to Pittsburgh where she earned her MSW at the University of Pittsburgh, graduating in December of 2016. After graduation, Tanisha completed a Death and Dying fellowship through the Jewish Healthcare Foundation and accepted a position at UPMC as an ICU social worker. Tanisha currently works as a supportive and palliative care social worker at UPMC Presbyterian Shadyside where she is a member of the palliative care section’s anti-racism and social justice committee. 
Tanisha brings with her 5 years of board experience as a former NASW state chapter board member, has multiple race in social work and race in medicine presentations under her belt, and can often be found engaging in various threads within the medical, social work, and hospice and palliative Twitter communities. In her spare time, Tanisha sews her own clothes and gets lots of hugs from her 10-month-old baby girl.

Lori Eckel, LCSW, APHSW-C is the lead palliative care social worker and the senior ethics consultant at Legacy Health.  She received her MSW from Portland State University School of Social Work, completed advanced clinical training in palliative care from Smith School of Social Work, and completed the Zelda Foster Palliative Care Leadership Fellowship at NYU School of Social Work. Lori currently serves as an adviser and mentor for participants in both the Smith and NYU’s Zelda Foster programs. Her palliative care clinical social work has been focused in critical care and oncology and she has worked in both inpatient and outpatient settings. She serves on the Editorial Board for the Journal of Social Work in End of Life and Palliative Care.  In her ethics role, she oversees the ethics consultation service, co-leads review and development of ethically relevant institutional policies, and supports the continuing ethics education activities at Legacy Health. Lori appreciates opportunities to contribute to the well-being of health professionals, teaching students, and mentoring others in the field of palliative care. She has presented locally and nationally on topics related to advance care planning, moral distress, and ethical dimensions of end-of-life care.

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Three Social Workers Named 2020 Cambia Health Foundation Sojourns® Scholars

SWHPN is thrilled to announce that three social workers have been announced as part of the seventh cohort of the Cambia Health Foundation’s Sojourns® Scholar Leadership Program. 

Cara L. Wallace, PhD, LMSW, APHSW-C of Saint Louis University; Rachel Rusch, LCSW, MSW, MA of Children’s Hospital Los Angeles; and SWHPN Board Member Stephanie P. Wladkowski, PhD, LMSW, APHSW-C of Eastern Michigan University were each carefully chosen through a rigorous selection process from a highly competitive pool. SWHPN is proud of their commitment to improving the experience of people facing serious illness and their caregivers. 

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A Way to Respond: Learn and Share Your Voice

We know there is a lot going on. In just the past twelve weeks, we’ve seen the COVID-19 pandemic blaze through our communities, resulting in more than 100,000 deaths. We’re seeing the related economic downturn affect workers, businesses, housing, food security, and more interrelated systems. We’re sharing the righteous anger from thousands of people across the country as they protest the impunity with which racial, ethnic, and xenophobic hatred and violence has been allowed to flourish. We echo the statement cried out on the streets and emblazoned across social media that Black Lives Matter.

Through it all, hospice and palliative care social workers have faced changing norms and practices head-on. We’ve grappled with determining who is considered an “essential” worker eligible for PPE. We’ve learned how to conduct family meetings in our living rooms and parking garages via videoconferencing and new apps. We’ve figured out how to show a smile behind a mask, how to show concern without being able to hug, and how to record memories and share presence for loved ones who couldn’t be physically present. 

AND we’ve done all of that while also grappling with the social justice issues that, due to hundreds of years building up layers upon layers of structural racism and inequities, are suddenly split open for all to see. Of the COVID deaths, we see the disproportionate impact it has had on Black people, Native Americans, Latinos, LGBTQ+ people, incarcerated people, and other marginalized communities, due directly to historical factors including redlining, unequal access to  to jobs, healthcare, and insurance, and stigma from healthcare providers. In the economic downturn, we see the same factors at play again, affecting those already struggling; and again in the police and judicial systems that overwhelmingly harm communities of color. It has been a lot to take in and process, even more for our social workers who are living it as a reality.

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It Starts With Us: SWHPN Statement on Racism and Structural Inequities in Hospice and Palliative Social Work

The Social Work Hospice and Palliative Care Network (SWHPN) wholeheartedly rejects the killings of black and brown people by police. As social workers helping ease suffering at end-of-life, we cannot let racism and disparities in care go unchecked. We are here to support a more just, equitable system for all.

Our organization is comprised of nearly 1,000 hospice and palliative care social workers throughout the country. Our core work focuses on providing professional development, amplifying evidence-informed best practices, and advocating for improved policies and increased funding, so that all patients and families experiencing serious illness receive expert psychosocial care which alleviates their suffering, improves their quality of life, and facilitates their dying in accordance with their wishes.

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Update on Social Work Open Discussions

Over the past month, our weeknight Social Work Open Discussions have been attended by social workers and psychosocial professionals from over thirty states and four countries! Thanks to all who participate and make these meetings the dynamic discussions they are during this critical time.

We are updating our schedule over the coming weeks to consolidate these meetings, as well as provide some discussion around specific topics. As always, these remain informal gatherings and safe places for clinicians and colleagues to share feelings and fears in an effort to find renewal, support, and social connection.

Beginning Tuesday, May 5th, please join us on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 7:00 pm EST. You can register to participate here. Come as little or as often you need.

See the updated schedule:

  • Thursday, April 30th: Topic: Grief and Trauma with special guest April Naturale. Looking to the future, there will likely be some level of grief and trauma for our colleagues and a large portion of the world that exists for a long time. What are we going to do about that as a field and as individuals?
  • Tuesday, May 5th: Open Discussion
  • Thursday, May 7th: Topic: New Normal. What does the "new normal" for hospice and palliative social work look like, and what can we do to ensure that our field is equipped to support patients, families, and colleagues? What are you hoping for, what are you worried about?
  • Tuesday, May 12th: Open Discussion
  • Thursday, May 14th: Topic: Transitions. How has your role changed since COVID-19? If you're working from home or have changed locations, what support do you need? How are you adapting? What things will remain post-COVID? 

You can find our most updated list of events and Social Work Open Discussion topics on the SWHPN Events Calendar.





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SWHPN Announces New Leadership

Though our field is facing unprecedented challenges, we are pleased to announce several exciting leadership changes taking place the Social Work Hospice and Palliative Care Network (SWHPN) to lead our members through these uncertain times.

SWHPN appointed Jessica Strong as permanent Executive Director, after serving in the role of interim Executive Director for the past year. This appointment followed an organizational search and board voting process. In addition to leading the outstanding team of professionals who have implemented SWHPN’s annual General Assemblies over the past five years, Jessica led SWHPN’s most recent strategic planning process that initiated the formalization of SWHPN’s current organizational structure. The goals set in that process have helped to provide extraordinary growth of SWHPN this year and have set the course for a bright future. One of her first initiatives was successfully securing a two-year grant from the Cambia Health Foundation to provide educational webinars to support the professional development needs of hospice and palliative care social workers. We are grateful to the Cambia Health Foundation for their continued support which will support these new initiatives.

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