Maintaining Family Connections in the COVID ICU

Work Setting: Hospital-Inpatient

Maintaining Family Connections in the COVID ICU
Emily Fagre

For 10 weeks, from March 30th through the closing of the unit on June 13th, I worked on a hospital unit devoted to the care of patient’s battling COVID-19. The hospital I work at converted a general pediatrics unit to an ICU to manage an influx of patients from the Detroit area. There were no visitors allowed, unless the patient was at their end of life. Our main role on the unit was to be the voice of and connection for patients’ families while they were separated from their loved one. We provided supportive counseling to families, facilitated video and phone calls, and participated in family conferences to talk about a patient’s clinical status and their goals of care. At the end of a patient’s life, we facilitated visitation for the family or created ways for them to be present with their family member when it was not safe for them to be at bedside.

Social Workers are an essential part of the medical teams caring for COVID-19 patients. We are able to advocate for what a patient or family needs when they’re separated from their loved ones during a critical illness. We’re able to assess and assist the whole family system. Communication is incredibly difficult when family cannot be physically present and providers are stretched treating several critically ill patients at a time. Social Workers can serve as the bridge when there are communication gaps or needs.

Social Workers are also uniquely positioned to understand the broader context of a pandemic that disproportionately affects people of color. Our understanding of social determinants of health and racial disparities will be critical as we move into the recovery phase and our input will be needed to develop more equitable systems to prevent devastation like this in the future. It’s our duty to take the knowledge we’ve gained during this crisis and transform it into something that moves us all forward.