Published on Mar 23, 2021

Video Transcript

[MUSIC PLAYING] JOHN WHYTE: Welcome, everyone. You're watching Coronavirus in Context. I'm Dr. John Whyte, the chief medical officer at WebMD. We've talked a lot about the role of physicians, the role of pharmacists, the role of nurses during this pandemic. But one group of professionals that we haven't talked about is social workers. What have they been doing to help during the pandemic? What's been the impact on the profession? So to help provide some insights, I've asked Melissa Haley. She is president of the National Association of Black Social Workers. Miss Haley, thanks for joining me.

MELISSA HALEY: Thank you so much for having me.

JOHN WHYTE: Now, you're in New Orleans. You've been working this whole time during the pandemic. What has it been like to try to provide the services of social work at a time when you actually can't go into people's homes? You can't meet with them for the most part. How hard has it been? And what have you done to overcome it?

MELISSA HALEY: Well, it has changed, the profession, considerably. I've been practicing social work for 25 years. So social workers do some very engaging work. A major part of what we do is meet people where they are. So we go into the community. We go into the homes. We go into the schools. We go into the hospitals. And we are there with people at their time of need and during their most precious times and challenging times in their lives.

So the pandemic has forced us to be nimble, to make some adjustments to the way that we have traditionally done work. How do we engage people? How do we meet them where they are when we're physically not in the same place? So it has been a challenge. And social workers are also finding themselves clients as well. We are impacted. Our families are impacted. Our community is impacted. So while we're giving care, we're also needing care. So it has been a challenge and a different experience.

JOHN WHYTE: Mhm. What are you seeing now that you didn't see pre-pandemic? Or are things just magnified?

MELISSA HALEY: And things have magnified. And they've changed considerably. We used to physically make gestures in the community. We build bridges. We make relationships. We know our politicians. We know our police officers. We know the pastors in the community. So we can reach people. We call them on their cellphones. We knock on their doors. We do what we need to do in order to get the job done.

But now, because distancing-- social distancing-- is what you need to do, how do you take that important part of social out of social work? How do you make that difference and that transition? I've been very proud of practitioners across the country, how they've made the adjustment. But it is different. It is a challenge.

JOHN WHYTE: And for our listeners that may need help, what are the services, typically, that social workers assist with?

MELISSA HALEY: Well, we're from the cradle to the grave. So when you have children, we're there. We're there for foster care and adoption. We're there for prenatal care. We're there to help you find doctors and primary care physicians. We're there when you have Alzheimer's, dementia, when your child is having challenges in the school system, and they need an evaluation.

We also help when people are incarcerated, social justice. We do an array of things. And that's the beauty of social work, is that you have so many options. And if you have the set skills, which includes engaging people and having those relationships, you can pivot in times like these and make a difference. And you really see the value of social work because we are able to make those adjustments during challenging times.

JOHN WHYTE: And how do viewers find a social worker?

MELISSA HALEY: Well, there are many ways. Most states have 211. So you call 211. That's the National Information and Referral Line. You say, look, I need these services. You give them your zip code. They tell you what's available in your community. And you can reach those resources. And 9 times out of 10, you're going to meet a fabulous social worker like me. They're going to call you. They're going to say, hey, I know you're having a difficult time.

But we're very clear that people shouldn't be defined by their challenges. We specialize in helping people liberate and overcome what they're experiencing. So when people are at their lowest point, we're there to find the strength and to build on that strength. National Association of Black Social Workers, we're a strength-based organization. And we look at, through all of the areas of challenges, what are the community's strengths and how can we thrive in those challenges.

JOHN WHYTE: Are there enough resources out there? This was a challenge pre-pandemic. And I would think that the pandemic and the lack of resources is making this much harder to do your job.

MELISSA HALEY: Resources are a challenge, primarily, because you can't physically go there. It used to be that you could go to the food bank. You could take somebody to the food bank. You could go sit with someone in the hospital. You can't do that anymore. So the resources are different and are more challenging to obtain.

However, we looked at ways and come up with creative ways to reach out in the community, different transfer and transportation delivery services, still being able to connect with people and demonstrating that you can also engage people outside a face-to-face setting, that you can reach them, and even using techniques [? doing ?] military and war.

Volunteers of America across the country, they have a rest program. And then military veterans, who've experienced these kind of tragedies, are helping front-line workers, working with them to help them overcome the challenges they're experiencing. So really having a community response to what's going on and using strengths.

JOHN WHYTE: So people don't need a referral for social work services. Correct? As you said, they can call 211 in some areas. Are there sites that you recommend that they look online?

MELISSA HALEY: Yes, they can also go to 211 online in most communities. You can pick up the phone. And some communities, even cities, have 311. So you can know what's going on in your city. But state-wide programs, when you give them your area code and you give them your zip code, they'll tell you what's in your area, where the food bank is, what the services are.

And you can get referrals through state if you qualify. A lot of services are based on eligibility. Do you have the income? Do you have the diagnosis? Do you have the things that you need in order to access? But the important part is to engage someone, to help them connect you. Even if you're not eligible for services, they can connect you to an available resource.

JOHN WHYTE: You mentioned at the beginning that some of your colleagues, fellow social workers, are now needing the services of social work. What has the impact been of the pandemic on your professionals' burnout rate and the need for resilience?

MELISSA HALEY: People are experiencing stress at a higher level. Your children used to go in class. But now you're working online trying to help someone with health issues, and you have a third grader who's trying to log on. And have a seventh grader who also needs to log on. One of the things that--

JOHN WHYTE: Mine was printing earlier today [LAUGHS] trying to--

MELISSA HALEY: Keep off, right. So you're trying to do two things. And you've got a bunch of things going on, really helping people with life challenges but also needing to be there for your family. And as a community, we need to value social workers just like we do doctors and lawyers. Now, this is Social Work Month. So we celebrate social work in March.

But all year long, these are the people that you call when you need benefits, when you need to know where to go get the support that is available to you. So how do we level the playing field, so social workers don't need two jobs? It's a fact that nurses get out of school, make twice as much money as social workers. So in order for us to provide for our families, we have to have two jobs. We have to work harder.

We have to stay longer hours, which increases the burnout rate. And every time you turn over a social worker, then that means that client has to re-engage with someone else, has to rebuild the relationships, has to start all over. It's traumatizing for the client as well as the practitioner. So we want to keep them in a place where they can feel stable and have long longevity employment.

JOHN WHYTE: Well, we need to acknowledge that social workers are heroes too during this pandemic. They were heroes before the pandemic. But even especially now, we have to recognize them. And I want to thank you and all of your colleagues for what you're doing day in and day out, and give you the recognition that you all deserve. It is time that we honor your work and express our gratitude to your work. So thanks for all that you're doing, Melissa.

MELISSA HALEY: Thank you so much for having us. I appreciate it.

JOHN WHYTE: And thank you for watching. If you have questions about COVID or questions about social work, please feel free to drop me a line. You can email it to me at [email protected] or post on our social media.