TAP-IN Program Promotes Volunteerism

NASW is supporting the Third Age Professionals Initiative — also known as TAP-IN — to promote volunteer opportunities for members whose skills can greatly assist those who lack health insurance.

TAP-IN is a newly formed program made possible by the American Health Initiative Ltd., a New York-based nonprofit organization devoted to initiating a national dialogue on health care reform as well as advocating accessible and affordable health care for all Americans.

NASW Executive Director Elizabeth J. Clark said TAP-IN is an ideal opportunity for retired or near-retired members who are thinking of ways to utilize their skills in a volunteer capacity.

"TAP-IN has the mechanisms in place to match health care professionals with agencies in need," she said.

The organization is looking for volunteers who are health care professionals who are 55 and older to met the expressed needs of its participating free clinics. Besides social workers, TAP-IN is seeking qualified generalist and specialist physicians, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, nurses, dentists and pharmacists.

TAP-IN is not currently available nationwide, but has participating clinics in the following areas: Virginia, with a focus on Hampton and Richmond; North Carolina, with a focus on Charlotte and the Triad; Atlanta; Cleveland; and Houston.

TAP-IN organizers said that they encourage professionals to register with their organization by visiting [website defunct] even if they don't live in a state currently providing services. They can also assist in matching potential volunteers with opportunities in their region or city. The Web site includes detailed information about how the program works and a question and answer section, including a discussion on malpractice coverage. According to TAP-IN, the Free Clinics Federal Tort Claims Act was implemented in 2004 for the purpose of providing malpractice protection for health professionals who volunteer in free clinics.

Under the FTCA, licensed independent practitioners volunteering in qualified free clinics are considered employees of the federal government, immune from medical malpractice lawsuits resulting from their volunteer service to patients. NASW members are encouraged to maintain a malpractice policy of their own while volunteering.

The TAP-IN Web site includes stories by some of its volunteer members as well. One involves retired social worker Rosa Jones, who became involved with the Good Samaritan Health Clinic in Atlanta thanks to TAP-IN. Jones and another volunteer help clients with a range of issues at the clinic, from food to housing to employment.

"Many of our clients have basic needs that could interfere with them being able to really benefit from our medical services," said Jones, who worked in the Atlanta school system. She explained that a volunteer coordinator suggested she might use her skills in a new setting.

"I thought it would be an interesting challenge to work in a clinic," Jones said in the article. "This has been a wonderful experience, extending my practice into retirement. I get to learn what's new in social work. It's very rewarding when I can hook someone up with what they need."

NASW's Code of Ethics addresses the importance of volunteering in its six core values, the first of which is service. In part, it reads that social workers draw on their knowledge, values and skills to help people in need and to address social problems. It notes that social workers are encouraged to volunteer some portion of their professional skills with no expectation of significant financial return.

Social workers have already proven to be generous with their time when called upon to help.

Recently, NASW asked its members to volunteer with the Give an Hour program, a grassroots organization that provides a network of licensed mental health professionals to offer free mental health services to military personnel and their families. So far, 1,900 social workers have participated in Give an Hour, noted NASW project manager and lobbyist Elizabeth Franklin. Since July 2007, Give an Hour has recruited 4,200 professionals who have donated 14,556 hours in mental health services, Franklin said.

Volunteering is also the theme of President Barack Obama's United We Serve initiative that launched earlier this year. NASW is a partner organization with the program that encourages Americans to do their part to rebuild their communities.

The Corporation for National and Community Service [formerly: United We Serve] also has a Web site featuring more than 250,000 service opportunities as well as stories of service from people from all walks of life.

In April, Obama signed the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act, which, for the first time, officially recognized Sept. 11 as a National Day of Service and Remembrance. On that day, the president, the Corporation for National and Community Service and families of the victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks asked Americans to remember the events that day and to recommit to service in their communities throughout the year.