Social Work is critical to pandemic recovery
By Megan Ferguson
Winnipeg Regional Health Authority
Published Monday, March 28, 2022
Social workers have always been essential to our health care system, supporting our community by providing and connecting people with the resources they need to improve their health, well-being and quality of life.
Given what we have all endured over the past two years of the pandemic, our role has become even more critical.
The COVID-19 pandemic, and the measures taken to protect us from the virus, have had wide-ranging impacts on our community.
There are many people who are experiencing new or intensified financial struggles as a result of job loss, insecure work or lost wages, which has in turn has impacted the security of their access to basic needs including food, housing and health care. Almost all of us have dealt with some level of isolation, which in addition to other factors like anxiety about getting sick or work-related stress and burnout, has impacted our collective mental health. And accessing resources to help with these concerns has become even more difficult than it was pre-pandemic due to both COVID-19 restrictions and an increase in the number of people who need them.
Social workers have a unique skillset and broad scope of practice, both of which play an integral role in helping people address not just these issues, but a range of others that affect them in different ways.
Navigating health care and social services can be difficult even for those who have no barriers to access, and has been a struggle for many people long before the pandemic. It's common for us to see clients who are frequently need to access the health or social services systems, or who have tried to access services and given up because of how hard the process can be. This brings in the role of advocacy as well, as with more and more people needing access to a limited number of services, and starting this process for the first time, our job as navigators and guides connecting people with what they need is crucial.
As with all other health care workers across the system, social workers are often walking with our clients through life-altering moments. We are the bridge between challenges and problem-solving efforts where the challenges are painful, confusing or overwhelming for the people experiencing them. We know how to build trust and foster relationships with our clients, which allows us to work with them to improve their health, well-being and quality of life.
Finally, and perhaps most critically, our practice is underpinned by a commitment to social justice and health equity. The circumstances of a person's life – their socioeconomic status, housing status, age, gender or race, among many others – greatly impact their overall health, as well as how they interact with resources and services, and which of those resources and services are available to them. Over the past two years, the barriers vulnerable people face within the health care system have become even more clear, and in turn, so has the need for social workers, who can provide in depth assessments through the lens of equity for all.
While we are starting to see the light at the end of tunnel, and have begun the transition to a post-COVID environment, the effects of the last two years won't lift as easily as public health restrictions. There is still more work to do towards our collective healing, and social workers will continue to be a critical part of that.
There are many social work services available in the community, and you don’t need a doctor’s referral to connect with a social worker. All Winnipeg hospitals – and some in rural Manitoba – have social workers on staff. Similarly, community health care clinics can often connect you with a social worker.
If you or someone you know if in need of crisis support, you can contact the Klinic Crisis Line at 204-786-8686 or 1-888-322-3019, or attend to the Crisis Response Centre at 817 Bannatyne Ave in Winnipeg.
You can also find additional crisis or non-crisis mental health resources at https://www.gov.mb.ca/mh/mh/crisis.html
Megan Ferguson is the Professional Lead for Social Work at the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority.