Coronavirus and the Transformation of Social Work Practice


For social workers, the last year plus responding to the coronavirus pandemic has encompassed work that provides support to those dealing with the devastation of loss. This includes the loss of loved ones, jobs, and financial instability, in addition to reimagining self-imposed isolation.


Feeling constant fear to the point where one may become sick, coupled with being isolated from friends and family, has caused an increase in the need for social work services surrounding psychological well-being, especially in communities in the Bronx, the borough hit hardest by the pandemic. Our experience of Coronavirus (COVID-19) extended to threats of our physical health, mental health and spiritual well-being. These threats to wholeness affected the way we understand anxiety and depression and informed decisions about our clients. 


In April of 202o, The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) released a Social Justice Brief which highlighted the devastating impacts that coronavirus has had on marginalized and vulnerable populations. The brief reported that “vulnerable and marginalized populations are at very high risk for bearing the brunt of the pandemic.” Families are grieving the loss of loved ones, experiencing food insecurity, loss of health benefits due to job loss, and undergoing crippling financial strain.


It is the job of social workers to provide innumerable services to those in need making the professionalization of help essential as we respond to the pandemic. When the pandemic first hit, we were met with a new challenge: the need for mental health services skyrocketed, but we couldn’t meet any of our patients in person. As an industry and as a company, we had to get innovative in how we supported our members. Social workers quickly pivoted to virtual sessions via telehealth software, Zoom or phone calls. At EmblemHealth, we launched the Peace of Mind initiative, where we called thousands of members and asked one simple question: “How are you doing?” The traumatic effects of the pandemic pushed the social work field to adapt to new virtual methods so that the continuity of care to patients would not be broken. Telemental health allowed our clients to honor the stay at home mandates as they received therapeutic services that were perhaps inaccessible in the past. 


Further, social workers have been working to connect those in need to available community resources such as food pantries, domestic violence shelters, mental health services, and addiction services. In my experience, demand is increasing so rapidly for these life-saving services that there are not enough resources to meet the needs. Counseling centers are at capacity and practitioners are overwhelmed with patients. Consumer need is beginning to surpass the available community resources. Additional funding is necessary to ensure that resources are available for those impacted by the pandemic. However, despite the challenges created by pandemic responses, social workers have remained dedicated to supporting communities through advocacy, counseling, and referrals. We remain dedicated to ensuring that those impacted receive services that help stabilize their interaction with the world around them. 


Collina D. Cooke, LMSW, Ph.D. is an EmblemHealth case manager, social work. 


For more information and resources for social workers regarding COVID-19 visit, and for more information about how EmblemHealth can assist those in need of social work, please get in touch via EmblemHealth’s contact form