By Ellen Kersen, LCSW
In the seven years I have been working for Senior Community Care PACE in Montrose, Colorado, I have never experienced such great emotional need than in the past year with the COVID-19 pandemic. We went from an open day center where we could see our seniors in person weekly to a home-based program where we were not advised to see participants unless absolutely necessary due to minimizing the spread of the virus.
The effect of COVID-19 shelter in place was not initially that terrible, but over the next months and now a year, it has become very apparent that our day center filled a huge social/emotional void for many of our participants.
The social worker’s became very adept at dealing with anxiety and depression as it related to the ongoing social isolation the participants were experiencing. The telephone became our “best friend” to communicate with our participants until we were able to gather appropriate PPE and visit in their homes once again. We began to notice that the most “emotionally stable” participants were starting to develop fear, anxiety, and loneliness related to the ongoing pandemic. This reality pushed us to be creative in ways to keep our own sanity and workload under control.
The housing crisis and financial loss of some of our participants was a great need. One of my participants went from independently living in the community to eviction and consequently to nursing home placement to avoid homelessness. This participant is now discharged from the nursing home and I assisted with her securing affordable housing in the community and she is living once again independently. This was definitely a success, as affordable housing is a challenge everywhere and the pandemic has caused many more individuals to seek this type of housing.
Not only did the pandemic affect our participants but also our staff. We offered support, both emotionally and physically, where needed to other staff members who were in crisis or “burnout mode.” This strengthened our team and has helped us survive all of the financial and workplace changes that had to be made due to the virus. All in all, I look back at 2020 and what comes to mind is that social workers have been the “glue” that holds multiple things together.
Ellen Kersen, LCSW is a social worker in Montrose, Colorado.