April 23, 2020
What is our profession's social justice role in the pandemic?
NASW has released a Social Justice Brief about implications of the coronavirus pandemic on our nation's most To date, thousands of people
have downloaded the document, which continues to inform our work with
coalitions such as the
Leadership Council on Civil and Human Rights and the Social Services Block Grant Coalition, plus numerous child welfare, disabilities, anti-poverty, and aging advocacy groups.
The emerging picture of the COVID-19 crisis is that vulnerable and
marginalized populations are at high-risk for not only becoming
infected, but also for dying from the virus. Communities of color, older
adults living in long-term care facilities, immigrants, the homeless,
and individuals detained in jails, prisons and juvenile detention
facilities, are among those at most risk. Regrettably, data emerging
from the Navajo Nation and other native tribes also points to high
infection rates in those communities.
Equally concerning is the disproportionate economic pain that vulnerable people are experiencing due to national stay-at-home and social distancing
policies. The combined medical, psychosocial and economic impact of
COVID-19 will not be short-lived; the resulting needs of millions of
adults and children could last for years.
Social workers have a significant policy role to play in responding
to this crisis. We will be asked to lend our voices in advocating for
supportive economic policies such as universal health care (Medicaid
expansion) and mandatory paid sick leave, especially for low hourly-wage
employees. We also will be asked to join in pushing the CDC to require
all state and local jurisdictions to collect comprehensive COVID-19
testing, hospitalization and death data based on race/ethnicity and
As essential members of the coronavirus response workforce, we will
continue to work with other front line providers in hospitals, shelters,
correctional institutions, and long-term care facilities. And clinical
social workers, specifically, will make crucial mental health services
available to families and individuals coping with increased trauma.
Social work's enduring commitment to social action is evident in our
community leadership during this pandemic. Through our collective
impact, we are helping mitigate the negative effect on the nation's most
vulnerable and marginalized populations.
April 14, 2020
Is meaningful self-care possible during the COVID-19 crisis?
Social workers have a responsibility to competently serve clients while upholding the fidelity of the social work profession. To meet the requirements of our Code of Ethics, we must take care of ourselves. In this pandemic, we are juggling anxious clients, overwhelming work demands, amplified social inequities, ethically challenging client health decisions, and complex grief. We are also worrying about our own safety, and that of our families.
NASW National Ethics Committee members Alexandrya Blackmon and Terricka Hardy say that social workers are in high demand for good reason. We are skilled at serving vulnerable populations in times of crisis. We are experts in helping clients manage stress and responding to societal issues. Generally speaking, social workers can be found doing their best work in critical times. But they add, crisis experts need support. Social workers' supervisors, managers, and organizations also all have an obligation to attend to social worker wellness.
Members participating in a NASW-New Jersey sponsored Health Care Social Workers Forum last week spoke of giving themselves permission to model effective ways of social distancing whenever possible. They also said social workers must allow themselves intentional breaks between difficult calls or meetings with families as they help navigate care for loved ones under extreme circumstances. One member explained, "We are social workers, but we are also human beings. This is not normal stress."
A courageous post on April 10 by our New York City Chapter alerted the profession to serious workplace safety issues in many practice settings. While NASW works to get state and national legislation passed to ensure PPE provisions for social workers and all essential workers, direct advocacy with employers is also required. Those of us who can work remotely should contact local government officials and the media about social worker PPE needs — and donate emergency supplies if we have them.
While maintaining hope, we must acknowledge the intense sadness, stress, and pain endured in the crisis. In his Staying Mentally Healthy During a Pandemic article, member Darryl Webster concludes "positive thoughts help make positive meaning out of any chaos."
Self-advocacy and self-care are required because the world needs us.
April 6, 2020
Are social workers recognized in the U.S. response to Coronavirus?
While doctors, nurses and other medical personnel are managing direct care for the thousands of people diagnosed with COVID-19, social workers are also working in hospitals and health centers. We are helping patients of all descriptions get the care they need in an increasingly chaotic environment. We are also working with families and communities to ensure that people who are recovering from the coronavirus or other illnesses will have their housing, food, mental health and other needs met.
School social workers are quickly forming to-go food centers so children who depend on school cafeterias for breakfasts and lunch will not go hungry now that schools across the nation are shuttered. Child welfare social workers are still making visits to families who face increasing economic hardships and may experience greater risk of domestic violence as the crisis deepens.
In nursing homes and other centers of care for older adults that are under quarantine to protect the most vulnerable from the spread of the virus, social workers continue to go to work every day, serving as liaisons between residents and their worried family and friends. And we're comforting those who are grieving in painful isolation for lost loved ones.
Social workers are often unsung heroes, but our contributions in the pandemic are not going unnoticed.
Last month, the Secretaries of Health and Human Services and the Department of Homeland Security declared that social workers are "essential personnel" in the fight against the coronavirus, instructing governors to minimize barriers to our ability to quickly deliver services during the pandemic.
Social work stories from the front lines of the crisis are deeply inspiring and NASW is working hard to elevate those experiences in the media and beyond. One such example is this column by NASW Massachusetts Chapter Executive Director Rebekah Gewirtz that appeared in The Telegram in Worcester this week. Rebekah's account showcases the heroism and dedication of social workers who meet in person with vulnerable clients such as people living with schizophrenia, despite the risks. You can find other media articles such as this at SocialWorkersSpeak.org.
In the weeks ahead, we look forward to reading your COVID-19 story in MyNASW and on the NASW Blog.
March 31, 2020
Does the recently passed economic stimulus bill help social workers and their clients?
Congress and the White House on Friday passed an unprecedented $2.2 trillion Coronavirus Relief package, the CARES Act, that provides assistance to individuals, families and communities as our nation grapples with the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The CARES Act is a key step in providing economic and other supports to the American people. Among other things, it provides rebates to millions of Americans; increased and extended unemployment insurance; funding for community services block grants to help local economies; and increased funding for the Supplemental Nutrition and Assistance Program (SNAP).
In addition, this legislation gives the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) authority to waive telehealth restrictions on the use of audio-only devices (such as landlines). NASW is vigorously advocating for this waiver, which should make it easier for social workers to deliver virtual services to clients. The bill also allows employers to provide a student loan repayment benefit to employees on a tax-free basis. And the Secretary of Education is authorized to postpone student loan payments, principal and interest for six months, through Sept. 30, 2020, without penalty to the borrower for all federally owned loans.
Although the CARES Act includes substantial relief, more support is needed and many persistent social and economic disparities still need to be addressed. The unemployment insurance is time-limited and will not cover all the lost wages of already struggling working class and middle-class families, including the income of affected social workers. The legislation may have increased SNAP's overall budget, but it did not increase SNAP's maximum level, leaving many families vulnerable to hunger. And efforts to keep the virus from spreading through our nation's jails, prisons, juvenile detention centers, immigration detention centers and centers for people who are homeless were only partially funded.
As a result, NASW will closely monitor implementation of the relief package and continue working with social work leaders and allied organizations to advocate for social workers and people who are most vulnerable during this crisis. Member support of local and national NASW mobilization efforts in the coming weeks will be essential.
March 27, 2020
The government is temporarily easing HIPAA enforcement regarding teletherapy tools. How can social workers use the new flexibility, and still comply with ethical and legal standards?
Normally, HIPAA requires providers to use fully compliant video platforms and to enter a Business Associate Agreement (BAA) with the platform provider (e.g., Skype for Business; Updox; VSee; Zoom for Healthcare; Doxy.me; Cisco Webex Meetings; Amazon Chime; GoToMeeting; and Google G Suite Hangouts Meet)*. This is still the best practice.
However, during the COVID-19 emergency, you may use any other "non-public facing" video chat apps (e.g., Facebook Messenger, Apple FaceTime, Skype, Google Hangouts)* and omit the BAA, without facing HIPAA violations. These platforms use end-to-end encryption to safeguard protected health information or PHI.
When using these tools, you must:
- Enable all available encryption and privacy modes when using those applications.
- Obtain informed consent for telemental health, including notice of potential privacy risks.
- Remember that legal and ethical privacy and confidentiality rules still apply to telemental health.
- Practice only within your area of competence.
- Be aware of cultural and socioeconomic differences among clients and how they may use electronic technology. Assess cultural, environmental, economic, mental or physical ability, linguistic, and other issues that may affect the delivery or use of these services.
- Consider a client's right to self-determination.
* NASW does not currently endorse any video platform. These examples are provided by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Please note that this information does not constitute legal advice and is provided for educational and informational purposes only; it is not a substitute for advice of counsel.
March 25, 2020
How will the proposed federal stimulus packages affect social workers and their clients?
As you may know, the White House and Congress have in the last two weeks moved swiftly to enact legislation to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. They are currently negotiating a third legislative package, which is projected to include $2 trillion+ in economic stimulus and aid measures. The Senate bill is the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act or the "CARES Act" (S. 3548). The House bill is the Take Responsibility for Workers and Families Action (H.R. 6379). Bipartisan negotiations will continue over the coming days.
NASW issued an action alert on March 23 to mobilize members around this developing relief package. Specifically, we want Congress to make sure it provides:
- Support for child welfare, mental health and behavioral health providers who are providing essential services to new and existing clients.
- Sufficient relief to poor and working-class families, including access to paid leave and long-term unemployment benefits.
- Immediate access for child welfare, mental health and health care workers to vital personal protective equipment.
- Access for Medicare beneficiaries to telehealth services using phones that are audio-only and do not have video chat apps. Last week NASW and the American Psychological Association sent a joint letter to Congress to Congress urging Medicare to reimburse audio-only telehealth services during the pandemic.
- Charitable nonprofit eligibility for loan and other economic relief, as these entities are on the front lines responding to the crisis.
NASW also is a member of the Coalition on Human Needs, which sent a letter to Congress around our urgent priorities for the legislative package now under consideration. NASW participates in this and many other coalitions working to promote equitable relief packages.
March 23, 2020
Is NASW working to change national policies affecting social
workers and their clients during the coronavirus pandemic?
NASW is committed to supporting
you and the clients you serve during this unprecedented public health
crisis. We are working on all fronts to respond in a way that best
reflects our shared social work values. In an
NASW statement issued on March 20, we are pleased with the
recent federal actions taken to provide economic relief as well as new
healthcare services to combat the pandemic.
We are especially pleased with
the significant expansion of telehealth in Medicare, given that older adults
are the most vulnerable to the virus. Teletherapy can now be done via
cell phone, with clients in their own home, using everyday video chat apps.
Our next big advocacy goal is to
get reimbursement approved for audio-only telephone sessions. A letter
was sent to Congress last week, and many of our 55 chapters are taking similar
action to secure this expansion for Medicaid and commercial payers.
We are pleased that so many of
you can join our free March 23 webinar about these changes. Due to overwhelming
interest, registration for the live webinar filled within 24 hours. If you were
unable to register, you can access the recording of the event through the
NASW CE Institute,
where it will remain free to members. We will post it as quickly as