This new world of social distancing and isolation is posing a challenge for social workers who provide social and psychosocial services to patients in critical need.

Social workers are “essential to the care of patients and families throughout the life course,” according to the Social Work Hospice & Palliative Care Network (SWHPN) in a recent statement. “In times of health care disasters such as the coronavirus pandemic, it is necessary for [hospice and palliative care social workers (HAPC-SW)] to be allowed to continue their work, which is pivotal to the emotional, social and existential well-being of the patients and families that they serve but also the colleagues with which they work and communities in which they lie. Social workers are essential problem solvers and mental health clinicians that every health care entity should utilize as an integrated resource.”

“Telehealth requires some different skills to create a physical presence. We still have to make ourselves known as a safe presence for patients and families without losing that personal connection,” said Benyamin Cirlin, licensed social worker for Visiting Nurse Service of New York (VNSNY) Hospice Care. “Social work skills are really about understanding the person in the context of their whole life — how they’re dealing emotionally, psychologically, physically, socially, and spiritually. A social worker is trained to kind of look at the person through all those lenses. Those skills are still a constant now. How you look at a person and their family within their context remains the same. It’s just the delivery of the services changed. In many ways, it’s an increased level of the normal stress of dealing with someone who is facing a dying relative or dealing with a dying patient themselves.”

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