The COVID-19 pandemic has been financially and emotionally devastating to people from all walks of life. Plenty has been said in the news about the plight of nurses, the struggles of business owners, and the havoc wreaked on everyday lives. It seems as though many front-line personnel, from those in healthcare to delivery drivers and fast food workers, got their share of media attention.
But what about the social workers who labored just as tirelessly under the COVID-19 pandemic as other healthcare workers? Many such workers didn’t receive quite the same recognition as other frontline workers — perhaps because there isn’t as much public awareness of what social workers actually do.
Some have complained of meeting resistance or doubt while on the job because it isn’t clear to other healthcare workers what it is they do. To some degree, this is understandable, given there’s such a wide array of roles social workers can play, and a long list of services they can provide (as we’ll see below).
Social workers are often confused with counselors and other mental health professionals so it’s not surprising there’s some disconnect there. But if social workers are to get the recognition (and even compensation) they need, it’s vital that their roles be better understood.
What Social Workers Have Done During COVID
Just as there are many aspects to the field of social work, there are a number of ways social workers have assisted people during the pandemic:
• Providing the public with valuable information, not only about COVID itself, but about medicaid, health insurance, vaccines, prevention measures, and other vital data.’
• Supporting other workers in the healthcare sector, such as working in hospitals or nursing homes to provide guidance and emotional support to the families of dying or deceased patients — an especially important task during the substantial loss of life wrought by the coronavirus.
• Offering private-practice support and counseling to families and individuals whose lives have been majorly impacted by the pandemic, as well as providing grief counseling to those who have already lost loved ones.
• Providing support to people with mental health conditions. This is especially critical, given that the rates of depression, loneliness, stress, anxiety, fear, and suicidal ideation increased dramatically during COVID.
• Intervening with, and helping victims to deal with, the unfortunate increase in domestic violence that occurred during the pandemic.
• Providing family and relationship counseling to those experiencing conflict, frustration, and communication issues with partners, spouses, friends, or family members as a result of being quarantined at home for extended periods.
• Similarly, providing a lifeline to people already living in isolation and being someone to reach out and talk to.
• Working with communities to educate and overcome skepticism and distrust of the vaccine and otherwise combat disinformation and bad science.
• Referring people and families to resources on healthcare, unemployment, financial support, home schooling, and other means of assistance for those struggling.
Are Social Workers Given Enough Credit For What They Do?
Despite providing so many services during the pandemic, and being just as much on the front lines as other healthcare workers, social workers don’t always get the recognition they deserve.
There may even be a stigma that social workers don’t have as sophisticated a skill set as other healthcare workers, despite most having at least a bachelor’s degree in the field and some having completed a Master’s degree. Becoming a verified social worker requires licensing and education, and takes a lot of time, effort and money to achieve.
There is even a popular perception that social workers don’t constitute “real” healthcare professionals, often being denied the same courtesy other healthcare workers have received during the difficulties of the pandemic, such as being able to skip the line in stores or being given amenities as thanks for their essential front-line service.
Even social workers doing their jobs in high-stress environments like the ICU haven’t received the level of regard and gratitude that they deserve.
Just as doctors and nurses have to deal with full hospital beds and overtaxed resources as COVID-19 does damage, social workers have also seen a dramatic increase in their caseload — and many are still taking the time to treat every patient as if they were the only patient.
Added to which, social workers, like everyone else, have had to endure personal stress, hardship, and loss while also being on the front lines of trying to help others during the pandemic. Many have had to deal with the illness, hospitalization, and even death of loved ones, while also maintaining a workload of patients.
This perception of social workers as being “lesser” needs to change — and the healthcare community could take the lead by recognizing some of these issues and helping guide the conversation to include social workers in the discussions about who constitutes an “essential” worker.
Social workers are often impeded by misunderstandings of exactly what role they play — by including social workers in more vital discussions and conversations about healthcare, that confusion can be lessened or cleared away — and everyone will benefit.