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Advocacy Opportunity: Improving Access to Mental Health Act (S 870/HR 2035)

In March of 2021, the Improving Access to Mental Health Act of 2021 was introduced in the House. This bipartisan bill, co-sponsored by Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Senator John Barrasso (R-WY), and Representative Barbara Lee, MSW (D-CA), will address gaps in services that Clinical Social Workers are able to provide under current law. 

There are 42 cosponsors in the House and 5 in the Senate. Per the NASW advocacy alert, we need at least 175 cosponsors in the House and over 50 in the Senate to demonstrate broad support for this bill and elevate it to potential consideration. It is anticipated that this might be a topic of focus in the coming months due to a recent request from the Senate Finance Committeeabout concerns that every American should be able to access high-quality behavioral health care when needed. 

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Political Palliative Care: Opportunities for Advocacy to Transform Palliative Care

Finding time to keep updated on pending palliative care legislation can be a challenge for busy palliative care practitioners. However, political advocacy work is as important as direct care work, and in some instances, may have the potential to improve lives and decrease suffering on a much larger scale. There is an urgent need to improve equitable access for all people who could benefit from palliative care, especially those who have been unfairly impacted by systemic racism and other forms of oppression in health care. This type of change will require some changes in public policy and laws. The palliative care community can work together to influence these changes through increasing engagement in political palliative care practice. 

Political palliative care is not partisanPolicy advocates view frontline healthcare professionals as important potential contributors for political action and advocacy due to their unique knowledge, proximity, and insight into the lives of the patients they care for. For patients with complex long-term healthcare needs, such as those served in palliative care, this type of practitioner advocacy can help communicate the perspective of a population of patients who may not be as well-equipped to communicate their experiences barriers to care and unmet needs.

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Attention Hospice and Palliative Care Social Workers: There is a need for your voice!

The Congressional Social Determinants of Health (SDOH) Caucus is a bipartisan effort of lawmakers started in July of 2021 to improve approaches for addressing health disparities experienced by persons disproportionately impacted by SDOH and improve well-being. In this effort, the Caucus is seeking comments and feedback from the public on challenges and opportunities related to SDOH by September 21, 2021.  

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Strategies for Avoiding Empathy Fatigue and Developing Emotional Resiliency During the Pandemic

The Social Work Hospice and Palliative Care Network (SWHPN) applauds the recent decision by the FDA to approve the Pfizer vaccine, Comirnaty, for protection from COVID-19 for people aged 16 and older. The alarming rise in COVID-19 cases over the past several weeks due to the Delta variant is a stark reminder of the serious health threat the virus poses, particularly for the elderly, individuals with underlying medical conditions, and children that cannot yet be vaccinated.

SWHPN strongly encourages all social workers in hospice and palliative care settings to be vaccinated against COVID-19 to protect themselves, their coworkers, their patients, and their families. COVID-19 vaccines are safe and highly effective at mitigating the risk of infection, especially when paired with other scientifically-backed measures like frequent hand washing and mask-wearing. Vaccinated individuals are protecting themselves by reducing the spread of the virus. All SWHPN Staff members are fully vaccinated.

We also know that there are many reasons some people may have for their vaccine hesitancy, including historical health abuses due to race and gender, lack of paid time off, lack of childcare, and disinformation campaigns on television and social media. There are also people who are unable to take the vaccine due to pre-existing conditions, and yet will be safer as more people are vaccinated. We strongly encourage social workers to take steps to enhance vaccine access for everyone, to ensure we achieve the goal of herd immunity as quickly as possible. 

Finally, we know that navigating ERs and ICUs that are filling with patients that need critical medical support, tending to families that cannot visit in-person, and helping hospital colleagues that are fatigued and stressed can lead to empathy fatigue. We hope that you are finding ways to build up your own reservoir of emotional resilience and taking breaks when you can to recharge.
If you are looking for ideas, or have some tried-and-true tips to share, we invite you to join us for our next CE webinar, an interactive conversation on Tuesday, September 14 at 5 pm EST / 2 pm PST, “Strategies for Avoiding Empathy Fatigue and Developing Emotional Resiliency During the Pandemic.” Registration is here. Current SWHPN Members can attend free of charge. 
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SWHPN Conference Committee Update: #SWHPN22 to be held in Santa Fe April 24-26

Continuing our blog series of updates from SWHPN's committees, our latest update is from the SWHPN Conference Committee. As one of SWHPN's longest-running committees, this group is responsible for all aspects of the organization's signature annual Assembly that, pre-COVID, brought together hundreds of social work professionals from across the country for several days of professional development, collaboration-building, and networking.

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Professional Development and Leadership for Palliative & Hospice Social Workers: Report on the APHSW Certification Program

Since the APHSW-C Program started in 2019, approximately 500 social workers have become APHSW-C! We had an incredible start for the first exam periods. The pandemic has made things more difficult with limited test sites since last winter/spring. However, now most test sites are open and ready to provide exams.

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SWHPN Strategic Engagement Committee Update: Building Connections & Advancing Social Work in HAPC

Beginning this week, SWHPN will begin posting weekly updates from our committees, to highlight the important work each is doing to help advance the organization’s mission. This series is being launched by our Strategic Engagement committee, and the following was written by Jennifer Hirsch, LMSW and PhD candidate.

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SWHPN Receives Grant from ANF to Develop Grief Resources

To help address complex trauma resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, five leading organizations are collaborating to offer free innovative resources for frontline providers on grief education. The Hospice and Palliative Nurses Foundation (HPNF), the Hospice and Palliative Nurses Association (HPNA), the Social Work Hospice and Palliative Care Network (SWHPN), the Association of Professional Chaplains (APC), and the Oncology Nursing Society (ONS) have received a grant from the American Nurses Foundation (ANF) to produce Dealing with GRIEF: A Series of 5 Short, Powerful Videos.

Caring for the physical, emotional, psychological, and spiritual needs of patients and their families is a demanding vocation in typical times, and this initiative aims to provide timely and practical information during an unprecedented time. Research has also shown that a significant number of frontline providers, at all levels, exhibit secondary traumatic stress, bereavement, compassion fatigue, and burnout.

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SWHPN Announces Seven New Board Members

SWHPN held elections for its Board of Directors in March 2021 and is excited to announce the addition of seven new members. Read the full press release here.

Tanisha Bowman, MSW, LSW, APHSW-C, a native of the Northern Virginia area, first attended Northern Virginia Community College where she earned her associate's degree in social science with a Deaf specialization, as well as a career studies certificate in American Sign Language. She then went on to graduate in May 2015 from George Mason University with her BSW. Following her graduation from GMU, Tanisha moved to Pittsburgh where she earned her MSW at the University of Pittsburgh, graduating in December of 2016. After graduation, Tanisha completed a Death and Dying fellowship through the Jewish Healthcare Foundation and accepted a position at UPMC as an ICU social worker. Tanisha currently works as a supportive and palliative care social worker at UPMC Presbyterian Shadyside where she is a member of the palliative care section’s anti-racism and social justice committee. 
Tanisha brings with her 5 years of board experience as a former NASW state chapter board member, has multiple race in social work and race in medicine presentations under her belt, and can often be found engaging in various threads within the medical, social work, and hospice and palliative Twitter communities. In her spare time, Tanisha sews her own clothes and gets lots of hugs from her 10-month-old baby girl.

Lori Eckel, LCSW, APHSW-C is the lead palliative care social worker and the senior ethics consultant at Legacy Health.  She received her MSW from Portland State University School of Social Work, completed advanced clinical training in palliative care from Smith School of Social Work, and completed the Zelda Foster Palliative Care Leadership Fellowship at NYU School of Social Work. Lori currently serves as an adviser and mentor for participants in both the Smith and NYU’s Zelda Foster programs. Her palliative care clinical social work has been focused in critical care and oncology and she has worked in both inpatient and outpatient settings. She serves on the Editorial Board for the Journal of Social Work in End of Life and Palliative Care.  In her ethics role, she oversees the ethics consultation service, co-leads review and development of ethically relevant institutional policies, and supports the continuing ethics education activities at Legacy Health. Lori appreciates opportunities to contribute to the well-being of health professionals, teaching students, and mentoring others in the field of palliative care. She has presented locally and nationally on topics related to advance care planning, moral distress, and ethical dimensions of end-of-life care.

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SWHPN Statement Against Anti-Asian Racism

In continuing with our work to speak up and challenge social injustice, SWHPN is issuing this statement condemning the hateful attacks against Asians, Asian-Americans, and Pacific Islanders. We have seen a rise in verbal and physical violence in cities across the United States because of anti-Asian racism following the COVID-19 pandemic (Ruiz, Horowitz, Tamir, 2020; Jeung, Yellow Horse, Popovic, Lin, 2021). In the murders of Korean-Americans on March 16th in Atlanta, we saw the twin biases of sexism and racism that Asian women, in particular, have been victims of in our societal structure of white patriarchy. Affirming our social work values, we explicitly reject all forms of racism, xenophobia, and nativism, and stand with our Asian-American victims of violence and hate. By doing so, we also acknowledge that the struggles of Asian-Americans are inextricably linked with other BIPOC communities in a common endeavor for the humanity of this country. We uphold the inherent dignity and worth of each person and challenge others to join us in working against anti-Asian violence.

We recognize that our statement must be followed with action. Understanding our positionality and respecting the vanguard role of the Asian-American community, we want to use this opportunity to highlight the work being done by our Asian American Social Workers, and advocacy groups like Asian Americans Advancing Justice and Stop AAPI Hate (@stopAAPIHate on Twitter). The Atlanta branch of the Asian Americans Advancing Justice released a very powerful statement earlier today that we encourage you to read, and amplify and donate if possible. The Chicago branch is holding a series of bystander intervention trainings during April that SWHPN staff will be participating in, and we encourage you to sign up (also available here, through ihollaback.org).

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Recent legislation includes hospice and palliative care social work as part of interdisciplinary survey team

On December 27, 2020, H.R. 133, the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021 became public law. This 5,593-page year-end legislative package included a policy provision which should be of interest to hospice and palliative care social workers. Part of the “Helping Our Senior Population in Comfort Environments Act”, also known as the HOSPICE Act H.R. 5821is a requirement for survey and enforcement procedures to improve consistency and oversight for hospice programs. 

Federal oversight of hospice programs is not a new development. The Hospice Quality Reporting Program (HQRP), established in 2010 with the passage of the Affordable Care Act, mandated quality reporting requirements for hospice programs. Since that time, to provide transparency to consumers and improve care to hospice patients, hospices have been required to both measure and report quality care measures. The Hospice Act differs from the HQRP, in that it provides more detail about surveyor training, the survey process, and intermediate sanctions for hospices.  Surveys will continue to be required every 36 months and if there is more than one surveyor (required to be a nurse), it can be conducted by other members of the interdisciplinary team. The interdisciplinary surveyor team is an important opportunity for hospice social workers, in that it includes for the first time, the potential for professional social work oversight to be included in a Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) hospice survey. 

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Cambia Health Foundation 2021 Sojourns® Scholar Leadership Program

The Cambia Health Foundation has opened its 2021 Sojourns® Scholar Leadership Program Call for Applications and encourages palliative care professionals from across the country, including all disciplines and practice settings to apply.

The Sojourns Scholar Leadership Program is designed to identify, cultivate and advance the next generation of palliative care leaders. As part of the leadership program, each Sojourns Scholar receives $180,000 in funding ($90,000/year over a two-year period) to conduct an innovative and impactful clinical, policy, educational, health equity or systems change project in the field of palliative care. Scholars also participate with other scholars in a collaborative learning community while receiving individual mentorship to design and implement a development plan that supports their growth as national palliative care leaders.

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Three Social Workers Named 2020 Cambia Health Foundation Sojourns® Scholars

SWHPN is thrilled to announce that three social workers have been announced as part of the seventh cohort of the Cambia Health Foundation’s Sojourns® Scholar Leadership Program. 

Cara L. Wallace, PhD, LMSW, APHSW-C of Saint Louis University; Rachel Rusch, LCSW, MSW, MA of Children’s Hospital Los Angeles; and SWHPN Board Member Stephanie P. Wladkowski, PhD, LMSW, APHSW-C of Eastern Michigan University were each carefully chosen through a rigorous selection process from a highly competitive pool. SWHPN is proud of their commitment to improving the experience of people facing serious illness and their caregivers. 

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SWHPN Condemns Riots at U.S. Capitol Building

Watching the events from yesterday unfold, and then reading many responses on social media and in major news and journalistic outlets, we at SWHPN feel the need to reflect and respond. As an organization, we obviously strongly condemn the insurrectionist riot that occurred at the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. and at statehouses around the country.

While social justice and self-determination are pillars of social work, what happened yesterday was an attempt by a group of nearly all-white people to compel their desired election result over the expressed wishes of millions of Americans who voted differently. Freedom of speech and freedom of assembly are guaranteed rights, but breaking windows and doors to enter Congress for the sole purpose to cause havoc and delay a procedural process to certify the President is not.

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SWHPN Statement on Changes to Social Work Code of Conduct in Texas

On Monday, October 12, the Texas State Board of Social Work Examiners changed the section of its code of conduct that establishes when a social worker may or may not deny services, to remove previous language specifying that discrimination based on disability, sexual orientation, or gender identity constitutes a violation of the code of conduct for Social Workers in Texas. The removal of these specifications puts the Texas code of conduct in contrast with existing social work principles, ethical guidelines for practice, and federal anti-discrimination mandates by allowing for discrimination based on disability, sexual orientation, or gender identity. 

The Social Work Hospice and Palliative Care Network (SWHPN) is horrified and dismayed by these changes, and condemns them in the strongest terms possible. This action explicitly violates the National Association of Social Workers’ Code of Ethics Section 4.02:

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An Election Guide for Social Workers

“The world has been abnormal for so long that we've forgotten what it's like to live in a peaceful and reasonable climate. If there is to be any peace or reason, we have to create it in our own hearts and homes.” ― Madeleine L'Engle, A Swiftly Tilting Planet

As of this writing, there are less than thirty days until the 2020 Election. This has been a year of tremendous uncertainty on so many fronts, and unlike in past years, it seems the uncertainty will continue through Election Night and possibly beyond.

As a 501(c)3 nonprofit, SWHPN is not permitted to endorse a specific candidate, nor are we allowed to oppose any candidate.

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SWHPN Welcomes New Members to Board of Directors

SWHPN held elections for new members of the Board of Directors in July 2020 and is excited to announce the addition of six new members to the SWHPN Board. Members of the Board of Directors are elected to two-year terms.

Liz Anderson, Ph.D, joined Western Carolina University in 2016 as Assistant Professor of Social Work. Dr. Anderson is a 2018 recipient of the Sojourns Scholar Leadership Program Grant, one of the first of two social workers to receive the award nationwide, for her research and leadership in family engagement in palliative care for rural persons with kidney disease.  She has worked as a hospice and palliative care social worker and was the former Social Services Director for Mid-Atlantic Renal Coalition.  Dr. Anderson was the Field Director and an Assistant Professor of Social Work at Mars Hill University as well as former Women’s Studies Coordinator. She collaborates with George Washington University and Coalition for Supportive Care of Kidney Patients in research and clinical practice on advance care planning, motivational interviewing, and supportive care for with persons diagnosed with kidney disease. In addition, Dr. Anderson's other research area includes campus sexual assault. She integrates her practice and research experience in the classroom, teaching Integrated Health, Social Work Practice: Individual Interventions, Research Methods, and Human Behavior in the Social Environment.


Danielle Jonas, MSW, LCSW, is a licensed clinical social worker specializing in psychotherapy with children, adolescents and families. Danielle earned bachelor’s degrees in psychology and in history from Indiana University. She continued her education by earning a master’s degree in social work from Indiana University with a concentration in pediatrics. She went on to complete an interdisciplinary pediatric palliative care social work fellowship at Boston Children’s Hospital/Dana Farber Cancer Institute and the Harvard School of Medicine. She is currently at PhD candidate at NYU Silver School of Social Work.

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Scholarships available for Fall 2020 SWHPN Summits

Thanks to a generous grant from the American Nurses Foundation, SWHPN is able to offer a limited number of scholarships for our August, September, and October SWHPN Summits. These scholarships are for both members and non-members, and will cover the costs associated with one Summit.

We are hoping to help social workers that have been negatively impacted by COVID, so that you may continue to learn and get CE hours during this difficult time. In the event that demand exceeds the available supply of funds, we will use a random lottery to determine the scholarships. Applications will be accepted on a rolling basis until September 14, 2020.

APPLY HERE

How SWHPN Is Addressing Diversity

Last month, more than 125 SWHPN members, social work professionals, and students joined together for our virtual June Summit, “Cultural Competency in Hospice and Palliative Care.” Held on Juneteenth and during Pride month, we wanted to use the day as an opportunity to go beyond didactic presentations to showcase meaningful, actionable steps social workers could take to address racism, explicit and implicit bias, intersectionality, and more. During the post-Summit “networking happy hour,” attendees stayed online for an extra hour and a half to continue the discussion. It’s clear there is a hunger for more information about how to dismantle inequitable systems that harm Black people, Indigenous people, and people of color (BIPOC), whether they are patients, families, or social workers.

Post-Summit, what is SWHPN doing to address the changes that are needed?

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Social Justice and Palliative Care Policy

In an effort to engage in social action to address racial inequity, SWHPN’s Statement on Racism and Structural Inequities in Hospice and Palliative Social Work is suggesting the bold and necessary step of asking us to critically question how we, as hospice and palliative care social workers, are contributing to maintaining systems of inequity in the work that we do.
These are hard conversations to have, but needed to do the work necessary to correct racial and ethnic disparities inherent in end-of-life care. In the book, Anti-Racist Social Work, Lena Dominelli writes that racism is not just a matter that can be “educated away,” but rather requires the “eradication and the transformation of our socio-economic and political structures.”

To begin to be anti-racist palliative care and hospice social workers, we need to examine our own personal biases and the systems of care that pay our salaries and contribute to poorer care provision for people who are not white. Using a lens of intersectionality to examine the market based economy of health care in the United States, having a life-threatening illness and being black or Hispanic unfortunately, leads to poorer end-of-life care outcomes. As our healthcare system struggles to care for those impacted by COVID-19, we have seen that higher rates of infection and death have occurred in nonwhite communities. Palliative care research also tells us that racial and ethnic minorities experience a higher likelihood of difficulties in managing symptoms from all illnesses, including higher rates of experiences with pain, a higher likelihood of hospitalization in final stages of life, and a higher likelihood of discharge from hospice. According to the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization (NHPCO), hospice utilization rates for blacks and Hispanics/Latinx persons are still vastly disproportionate when compared to the general population, with 82.5% Caucasian, 8.2% African-American, and 6.4% Hispanic/Latinx patients enrolled in hospice compared with the overall U.S. population percentages of 60% Caucasian, 12% African-American, and 18% Hispanic/Latinx. 
In a recent article I co-authored in The Journal of Policy, Practice and Research I attempted to examine these disparities using a social justice informed policy analysis to examine two of the primary payors for end-of-life care, the Hospice Medicare Benefit and Medicare coverage for Palliative Care. In practice, these federal policies have substantially socially unjust effects by providing disproportionate advantages for those who are white, have family caregiving support systems, and higher socioeconomic status.

We need to ask ourselves, what role do we play in maintaining this hospice and palliative care system of structural inequity that favors and maintains a norm of whiteness and socioeconomic stability?  We also need to recognize how the hospice and palliative care workforce continues to not only serve more whites than other ethnic minorities, but also maintains a majority of whites employees in professional and leadership roles, while at the same time maintaining a low paid workforce of direct care workers who are more likely to be black and brown women.  

Social workers are trained to be integrated practitioners, meaning that we can, and should, be considering multiple levels of practice when working with client systems. However, often, social workers tend to focus primarily on roles that are more reflective of micro level of practice. A recent job analysis of 482 hospice and palliative care social workers published in the Journal of Social Work in End-of-Life and Palliative Care showed that social workers consider macro practice or “engaging in social policy and community development” to be of lower importance in job tasks when compared with other more traditional micro practice roles. This moment in history should be recognized as a call to action for social workers to engage in policy analysis and examine policy outcomes to better develop skills in policy action and political organization.

Interested in learning more concrete ways to influence and address macro level changes that are needed?
  • See SWHPN's List of Resources for Health & Race Equity
  • Participate in SWHPN's next TweetChat, which are announced on the SWHPN Events Calendar
  • Send us your resources or suggestions for what we can share with the field or how we can improve as an organization of social workers