“And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.” (Colossians 3:15, ESV)
We are called to a life of peace, to connectedness, and to thankfulness. So, in light of the pandemic crisis facing us, these familiar words from Scripture can impact how a social worker makes wise, ethical, and loving decisions. There are many things to consider and we can look from a macro, mezzo, and micro level. When everything seems uncertain, we, as Christians, can find grounding and comfort in looking to Scripture for guidance and reminders of hope.
This pandemic has reached worldwide impact. The history books will remember this period in global history as negatively impacted by COVID-19 but positively impacted by technology, communities, and creativity. On a macro level, social workers can be involved in advocacy, policy making, resource allocation and education. You might find yourself feeling very small in light of a worldwide health crisis, but each one of you is uniquely called and gifted by the Creator to live a life of purpose and blessing. We are interconnected and this pandemic reminds us of the connectedness we share. Make sure you are sharing ethically sourced information on your personal, professional, and agency social media and websites. The CDC, SAMHSA, and HHS are three sources of information that are consistently updated with the newest information. Make sure you share the hope that is within and seek opportunities to share the light of Christ with the world around. Integrating faith and practice at this time in some ways becomes easier as crisis drives a search for hope. Let’s highlight the good work that is ongoing and will be a valuable resource amidst COVID-19 by our faith-based organizations. NGOs, FBOs and Denominational groups will be leading macro level responses throughout the world. We, the members of NACSW, support you and are praying for you as you carry out your missions.
Many smaller institutions, organizations, universities, colleges, neighborhoods, and congregations will be leading locally in the response to COVID-19. Policies need to be made quickly and methods of practice are changing in real-time. From human resources, to risk management, to clinical procedures, administrators and managers in our field are doing the heavy lifting of making it possible for responses to client needs to be met in the most ethical and practical ways while our government has called for social distancing. Respecting the leadership above us, whether political or in our own agency, has direct correlation to the teachings of our faith. We should commit to pray for our leaders as they face questions that are new and scenarios that do not have a clear playbook. Educators have also faced unprecedented challenges to change the way they approach their curriculum and to transform an entire system from classroom to virtual. They have met the challenge with enthusiasm and creativity, giving students a sense of support. Seek the advice of trusted professionals for consultation in this time change. American Professional Agency has many resources about telehealth best practices. Council for Christian Colleges and Universities has a list of resources for educational system responses. NASW has put together a thorough compilation of resources regarding ethics and best practice regarding COVID-19.
As we narrow the lens and look more individually at our responsibilities in this national state of emergency, we must first remember the first ethical standard our profession which is a commitment to clients. “Social workers’ primary responsibility is to promote the well-being of clients. In general, clients’ interests are primary. However, social workers’ responsibility to the larger society or specific legal obligations may on limited occasions supersede the loyalty owed clients, and clients should be so advised (NASW Code of Ethics).” Wash your hands, cover your cough, practice social distancing, and do all the very practical things we know that can help flatten the curve and prevent further spread of the virus. Also, live with faith that God will provide and make the tough decisions about the business of social work that give best protection to others. Show up bravely to care for at risk populations, close physical locations when possible, buy masks and hand sanitizer at outrageous prices if needed, and try new things like telecommuting / online teaching with a positive attitude, but please be guided by the principles of putting clients first. Just as our faith calls us love our neighbor and to put others before ourselves, in our professional work we can put others first despite the costs or inconvenience.
A local health department official shared with me today that if someone tests positive for COVID-19, then the state where the individual is becomes automatically notified. An investigation will begin by the local health department. The estimated time of exposure and who the individual was in contact with is determined and the individual must release the names and contact information with everyone for whom there was contact during a specified timeframe. This information goes to the department of epidemiology where the case is local, which then contacts and monitors those individuals. Social workers would have to release the names of clients if the social worker tests positive for COVID-19 so that the clients can be screened and monitored. So a short-term gain of seeing clients now, might bring great cost to them later if they have been exposed before the social worker showed symptoms. The health department official said the official position is telemedicine is the best option for providers now and that any providers that can possibly use telemedicine should. Insurance companies are making amendments so that behavioral health services delivered by video or phone can be billed just as in office appointments would. Federal laws on HIPAA have been adjusted by HHS to make this more feasible. State licensing boards are working, admittedly some slowly, to allow medical providers to cross state lines and provide care if they are licensed in another state to increase access to services. Center for Connected Health Policy shares frequently updated information about current state laws and policies regarding telehealth and also legislation and regulations.
Free CE workshops are available in telehealth to help providers insure they are meeting ethical and best practice standards. NACSW has not developed a CE on this topic so we direct you to these options.
Everyone is navigating loss right now. There are graduations, weddings, concerts, birthdays, performances, holidays, book clubs, conferences, galas, and more that are postponed or cancelled. Each of these represent significant time and effort invested in preparation. Just as we experience lent as a time of preparation spiritually, many have been preparing for events that allow for connection and sharing of God-given gifts, talents, memories, passions, and calling. Instead we find ourselves in a season of almost solitude and reflection. The spiritual parallels are evident as we are so easily reminded that God calls us to know him as individuals and to live out our faith in the context of community. We participate in the Body of Christ through individual and shared experiences. As Christians in Social Work, we share this privilege to integrate faith and practice and to journey with others even in times of crisis. COVID-19 cannot steal that deep faith from us, but it can cause us to renew the practice of thankfulness and peace. “And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.” (Colossians 3:15, ESV)
-Kim Cook, LCSW, MSW, MA
Director of Operations, North American Association of Christians in Social Work