When You're Working Remotely as a Hospice or Palliative Care Social Worker

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I've heard from several social workers who have been asked to work remotely, or who are fearful for their jobs, and also from a few who have been furloughed. To be frank, it is important to be indispensable at a time like this, not just to fill up your time. Though social workers around the country are being asked to work in a different way, that doesn't mean we need to panic; it means we need to be intentional in what we are doing.

  1. First, learn from history. In speaking with Grace Christ, SWHPN's Immediate Past Chair who assisted on the ground during and after 9/11, I learned about some of the ways that social workers were most helpful to firefighters through that time. Firefighters have told her that what they liked most about social workers is that, "when others were running around with a number of big ideas, social workers immediately dug in, made coffee, and started files on the missing and dead that they filled with information. We came with help. We didn't wait for someone to tell us what to do."

  2. Look to your roots. Like all of our work, when all else fails, go back to Social Work 101. In a time of great crisis, meeting people where they are, tapping into their strengths, and being of service to people in need are at the heart of what our health care communities and broader society needs right now. If the surge has not, or by luck, will not hit at your location, volunteer to be a virtual staff member at another location that needs the support (such as  NYC) or volunteer with us to support other social workers.

  3. Grow your reach. Some hospice and palliative social workers who are not currently seeing patients (or seeing fewer) are expanding their focus to include virtual support groups at their location using their agency's preferred platform, either by coordinating with other social workers at their agency (for large systems and agencies) or in partnerships with local and regional schools of social work. You can find tips on facilitating virtual groups here, which includes links to other resources including tech tips and group guidelines.

  4. Read and write. Remember, this is a novel virus, and for a number of us, a pandemic is something we never thought we would see in our lifetime. It is important for us to learn from this experience. We can do this by sharing our experiences through articles, webinars, blog posts, etc. It is our ethical obligation to our clients, to our colleagues, to the social work profession, and to the broader society that we pass on the lessons we learn from this crisis. This is one of our strengths: that we will learn from any trial we experience, and that we will teach it others. Many journals such as The Journal of Social Work in Palliative and End of Life Care are putting out open access online editions as quickly as they can.

  5. Now, more than ever, practice self-care. As Kecia Nelson, LCSW, CF, a social worker in Missouri pointed out, "we are not necessarily working from home, either. We are home during a global health crisis trying to get work done!" With that in mind, it is acceptable for us to remember to be our own social workers, to remind ourselves to be kind to ourselves, that we are also under an immense amount of stress, anxiety, and worry in a difficult time. We may be experiencing things like "Zoom fatigue" as we try to navigate this new way of working.

If there's one thing we as social workers know, it's that we have the ability to make meaning out of this experience, regardless of how painful it may be. That meaning presents with it opportunities for resilience and even post-traumatic growth. For many of us, painful losses and the meaning we made from them are how we got into this field in the first place. Now is the time for us as a field to come together and grow as a collective, and to help the world cope with immense isolation, loss, and uncertainty in this challenging time in the creative ways that only social workers can.

 

Allie Shukraft, MSW, MAT, APHSW-C, is the current Board Chair of SWHPN and a Social Worker on the Pediatric Advanced Care Team at Atrium Health in North Carolina.

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