Kunbi Oluwasusi, 31, is a traveling medical social worker, her last contract placing her in Northern California. Despite the explosion of COVID-19 patients in hospitals in the United States, Kunbi’s contract was not renewed on May 1 and she is currently facing unemployment.
As a travel social worker, you expect to go through many difficult situations. After all, most of the time, I try to ensure that my patients are helped out of difficult situations; common cases in my field can look like a real crisis. I am used to doing my best to keep my patients (and sometimes myself) safe. There is a saying in social work: “You have to laugh to not cry.” But I admit that it has been more difficult to find joy lately, especially since I never thought I would be caught off guard by difficult circumstances – I did not expect that a global pandemic could mean for the patients I serve.
So far, I have spent the first half of the pandemic working as a social worker in a hospital in northern California, not too far from where the epidemic appears to be taking place in the United States. . I worked to provide support and advocacy to all hospital patients who needed it; from babies who ended up spending their first days in the NICU, to seniors who were in end-of-life care. I have also continued to serve those facing problems such as homelessness and drug addiction, problems that have proven to be doubly urgent at a time when orders of social distancing swept the state before most of the others. country of the country.
Everything they needed after leaving hospital care – referral to a mental health shelter or clinic, access to a pantry, assets of a government assistance office, l entry into a rehabilitation center or palliative care services – I worked to facilitate. Community organizations in the region helped me to better serve the population during my hospital stay, helping to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on patients.
But that didn’t mean that my role was a walk in the park. In fact, almost all processes have been affected by the new risks that the interaction with our patients has brought to light.
I was fortunate to be placed in a hospital that had more equipment and capacity to regularly test patients for COVID-19. But we also had to ration personal protective equipment (PPE) for our own staff as well as for emergency doctors, nurses and other staff. The emergency room, an area in which I sometimes found myself working, was divided into those who had flu-like symptoms and those who weren’t. My team “huddled” daily to cope with all of these changes, and at one point, I myself was screened for symptoms every day before entering the hospital. Anxiety had never been higher than in those first weeks, especially since PPE was rare.
We also had to adapt to the new realities of our patients. Normally, when our patients are discharged, we use a variety of transportation methods to get them to where they need to go. However, with COVID-19 patients in particular, we have contracts with companies that regularly disinfect their vehicles – at least once between trips. Putting my patients in safety after having fought their fights in the hospital seemed to me a challenge in itself.
But even just meeting these patients has become more difficult. As the hospital eventually demanded that we wear PPE when meeting with patients, I found myself trying to convey empathy behind a mask. My job is to talk to people who are in a very delicate condition, especially now. Day after day, I hoped that these patients could feel my empathy through my body language and the tone of my voice, because they could not see my expression behind the mask.
We always do our best to keep each other up, but some of the challenges our patients have faced have had an impact on me. The pandemic has forced caregivers to be extremely careful about families – I know myself that I was probably exposed to COVID-19 in the hospital every day, and gowns and masks are largely reserved for nurses and doctors.
In late March, a patient in the intensive care unit suffered a massive heart attack; he was intubated and ventilated. The man’s family was immediately informed that he would die soon – but due to social restrictions at the hospital, only two people at a time were allowed in the room to say goodbye. I really wish that the whole family could be together in the room to comfort each other.
Fortunately, I was not overly affected by the spread of the disease, and none of my colleagues were working at the time. But I worry about my own family. When I was growing up in Orange County, New York, my parents recently downsized and moved to the Bronx. My mother also works on the front line as a pharmacist for a state psychiatric hospital, and my father is an independent lawyer who adapts to new realities. My mother did everything she could to prevent the spread at home and my parents have remained safe so far.
I can’t help but worry about them because my aunt and uncle contracted COVID-19, which has helped recover outside the hospital so far. I am fortunate to be able to connect with them and support them from afar, which is not the case for the patients I helped leave the hospital. I couldn’t close the loop with the patients I worked with in March and April.
The fact that everyone practices social isolation is good, but it also means that those who are not seriously ill have been encouraged to stay away from the hospital – which means our overall census is lower . I didn’t stop working with patients because I wanted to: My contract was not extended due to the low volume of patients and I am currently unemployed. The low volume of patients ended up translating into less need for staff, including travelers like me.
Many schedules of nurses, social workers and nurse case managers with permanent staff were affected due to the low census. In April, my number of cases decreased considerably, hospitals having become essential, mainly for COVID-19 patients alone.
That said, I didn’t choose my profession on a whim. Being able to overcome part of the COVID-19 pandemic reminded me of why I chose to dedicate my career to social work. Despite the inherent risks, I didn’t even think my job was putting me in danger and I still want to help and support people in every way possible. This situation reminded me of how inspiring it was to go to work every day with professionals who really give everything to those around them.
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