NASW Foundation Partners with University of Texas-Austin on COVID-19 Vaccination Grant

The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) Foundation and the Health Behavior Research and Training Institute (HBRT) at The University of Texas at Austin Steve Hicks School of Social Work have been awarded a $3.3 million, one-year grant by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to engage the nation’s more than 700,000 social workers in boosting COVID-19 vaccine confidence, uptake and access, particularly among populations with low vaccination rates and higher vulnerability to severe forms of infection.

“As an essential health care workforce, social workers are well positioned to help people in their decision making around their vaccination status and address any impediments to getting vaccinated, for themselves and for their family members,” said NASW President and NASW Foundation board member Mildred (Mit) Joyner, DPS, MSW, LCSW. “Whether they work in health care settings, schools, mental health clinics, child welfare agencies or out in the community, social workers are trusted professionals who are able to meet people where they are in their COVID-19 vaccination journey and help them navigate any personal, systemic or logical barriers to becoming fully vaccinated.”

As of this week, 63 percent of the total vaccine-eligible population are fully vaccinated, with much lower vaccination rates among certain populations. With the rampant spread of the more transmissible Delta variant, cases, hospitalizations and deaths are once again sharply rising, largely among unvaccinated people. With vaccines recently recommended for pregnant women and expected to be approved in the coming few months for children under age 12, and with booster shots expected to be available this fall, there is increasing vaccine availability, which will be instrumental in reversing the spikes in infection. Facilitating confidence in and uptake of the vaccines is still crucial, as is eliminating barriers to access.

Vaccine confidence is a complex construct that involves a variety of personal factors such as religious beliefs, political beliefs, perceptions of the government, perceptions of science, individual and/or community experiences with health providers and/or systems, language and/or literacy, and/or immigration/refugee status.  As is seen in health and public health initiatives generally, there are also systemic and logistical factors such as transportation, childcare, and mis/disinformation. With their distinctive “person in the environment” framework, social workers possess highly relevant expertise in helping facilitate health decision making in this context.

The one-year project will include a comprehensive education campaign for social workers on COVID-19 vaccine safety and effectiveness, barriers to vaccination (e.g., mis/disinformation, logistical challenges, psychological, etc.), and the role of social workers in promoting vaccination. The initiative will also include trainings for social workers on facts and myths about the vaccines as well as training in Screening, Brief Intervention and Referral to Treatment (SBIRT), Motivational Interviewing (MI), and other evidence-based, culturally competent, public health- and social work-informed methods for helping clients to process health-related decisions and choices. Through reflective listening and other strategies, versus traditional advice-giving approaches, these methods support and honor the client’s capacity and right to make choices about their health, while centering science-based and accurate information.

HBRT will collaborate with Michigan State University to develop a smartphone mobile application for social workers. The mobile app, which will supplement training, will support social workers by providing them readily accessible vaccine information, motivational interviewing  strategies, screening questions and  brief interventions, and effective vaccine messaging for real-time support. HBRT will also collaborate with NORC at the University of Chicago to assist in developing messaging and in evaluation efforts.

NASW’s 55 state/territorial chapters and specialty social work associations will also be engaged in the initiative.

The National Association of Social Workers (NASW), in Washington, DC, is the largest membership organization of professional social workers. It promotes, develops, and protects the practice of social work and social workers. NASW also seeks to enhance the well-being of individuals, families, and communities through its advocacy.

Wilhemina’s War: Women of Color with HIV/AIDS in Rural South Carolina

Wilhemina’s War first aired on February 29th, 2016, and the film chronicles the trials and tribulations of family matriarch Wilhemina Dixon, her daughter Toni who is HIV positive, and granddaughter Dayshal who contracted HIV at birth. Filmed over a period of five years from 2009 to 2014, the feature highlights the stages of caring for loved ones with HIV/AIDS using limited resources. Despite working odd jobs to keep the family afloat, Wilhemina pours her spirit into encouraging her daughter and granddaughter to survive.

This intimate look into the daily life of women of color with HIV in rural South Carolina along with the social and political barriers they faced adds to the appeal of this 55 minute docudrama. Every person in the film whether it be the survivor, activist, social worker, politician, pastor, or resident-is impacted by HIV/AIDS.

Cassandra Lizaire, author of “S. Carolina’s Haley Slams Door on HIV Prevention”, stated that, “Wilhemina Dixon knows this devastation well. A 64 year-old great-grandmother living in the dusty backroads of Barnwell, S.C., she spends her mornings in the field picking peas before the onslaught of the midday sun. Her odd jobs provide for her family of six and she takes pride in making an earnest living. Afterwards, as she sits in the shade of her porch, far removed from the political machinations, I imagine Dixon thinks of her daughter Toni who died of AIDS last year [2011] and ponders the future of her granddaughter Dayshal, who was born with the virus.”

“In South Carolina, we are ranked eighth in the nation in the rate of AIDS. Eighty percent of all women in South Carolina living with HIV/AIDS is black. Eighty percent of all children living with HIV are black. Seventy-three percent of all men living with HIV are black. This is a black epidemic for all practical purposes,” clarified Vivian Clark-Armstead, South Carolina HIV/AIDS Council member in the film, “Wilhemina’s War.

June Cross, in the article “June Cross Tells the Story of a Family Fighting HIV in South Carolina”, chose to develop this documentary to raise consciousness and dispel myths about HIV/AIDS among African Americans in the rural South.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

  • In 2009, the highest number of adults and adolescents living with an AIDS diagnosis resided in the Southern part of the United States.
  • In 2010, in the South, the Northeast, and the Midwest, blacks accounted for the largest number of AIDS diagnoses.
  • At the end of 2010, the South accounted for 45% of the approximately 33,015 new AIDS diagnoses in the 50 states and the District of Columbia, followed by the Northeast (24%), the West (19%), and the Midwest (13%).
  • In 2013, an estimated 776 adults and adolescents were diagnosed with HIV in South Carolina. South Carolina ranked 17th among the 50 states in the number of HIV diagnoses in 2013.
  • In 2014, 44% (19,540) of estimated new HIV diagnoses in the United States were among African Americans, who comprise 12% of the US population.
  • In 2014, an estimated 48% (10,045) of those diagnosed with AIDS in the United States were African Americans. By the end of 2014, 42% (504,354) of those ever diagnosed with AIDS were African Americans.

The CDC implies that knowledge of the regions where HIV and AIDS have the greatest impact, informs the equitable distribution of resources for prevention and education in those areas. The CDC also suggests that its approach to the HIV crisis is driven by the 2010 National HIV/AIDS Strategy introduced by President Obama. The four main tenets of the strategy are to: lower the infection rate, expand healthcare availability and improve the quality of life for those who are HIV positive, lower HIV-related health inequalities, and attain a more organized federal approach to the HIV crisis.

However, Lisa Ko asserts in her article titled, “African Americans Hit Hardest by HIV in the South” that, “As seen in Wilhemina’s War…Governor Nikki Haley’s rejection of billions of federal dollars through the 2010 Affordable Care Act (ACA) and cutting of $3 million in AIDS prevention and drug assistance programs has resulted in substandard or nonexistent health services, medication, and medical care.” Wilhelmina’s War brings these statistics to life as it exposes the social and political obstacles Wilhelmina and her family encounter while inspiring the audience to advocate for collective change. Wilhelmina’s War can be accessed through the PBS.org website.

To assist the Dixon family and others with HIV in the rural South, June Cross shares the following ways to get involved:

  • Cross has established a GoFundMe page for Dayshal Dicks.
  • Cross suggests that organizations involved with the #BlackLivesMatter movement and other social justice efforts connect with local HIV advocates.
  • Finally, making financial contributions to HIV foundations to help them continue their community outreach.

In my previous experience working with HIV positive clients in a residential setting, my goal was to promote a safe, drug and alcohol-free community living environment. As residents, clients could access intensive case management, group and individual counseling, and intensive outpatient addiction treatment for up to two years.  During this period, most clients were empowered to acquire and sustain permanent housing. I learned that the best thing I could do for these clients was to show empathy and treat them how I would want to be treated. The only difference between me and them was time and circumstance.

I encourage social work students, practitioners, other helping professionals, and community activists to watch Wilhemina’s War to increase awareness about the status of the HIV/AIDS crisis in the rural South.

Wake Up Politicians, American Families Need Your Help With Mental Illness

The National Alliance on Mental Illness[i] reports that one in four adults have a mental illness. Take pause for one second of your day today to raise your eyes from your smart phone to look around you. See that woman over there? She’s one…keep it going. Count four people. Are they standing, sitting, or walking by you? STOP at four. Yes, one of those, yes…61.5 million Americans have a bout of mental illness of some form or another in a given year. One-half of all chronic mental illness begins by the age of 14 with three-quarters by age 24.  The number four person you counted, how old do you think they are?
1 in 4 logo news

The CDC[ii] reported in 2013 that an estimated 13 –20 percent of children living in the United States which is 1 out of 5 children experience a mental disorder every year. Next time you are in a grocery store, department store or movie theatre, look up and count again. One small child hounding his mom for popcorn.

Another running circles around his father while he tries to reign him in. Three. Four and a fifth, a nine-year old staring blankly into space as those around her engaged in friendly chatter. One of those children is suffering with mental illness. And although an estimated $247 billion is spent each year on childhood mental disorders, they are increasing and more than 50% of those children’s illness are not being addressed.

These statistics break my heart. My family experienced mental illness without resources in spades. I know we are not isolated or rare, however, and that is even harder to swallow than the outcome of what happened behind the front gate of my white picket fence.

Families all over the country are being told to call the police, restrain their children, and medicate in their living rooms with the likes of prescription drugs that were once only common in state-run mental health facilities.  Until a child cries that someone is hurting them or hurts or worse, kills others, there is barely a framework of support for the family – often left with the finger of blame pointing straight in their direction.

Are they victims? The jury is out. The more important truth is that no one is taking responsibility for there being a bare bones band-aid to support families raising the 20% of children that will become the 25% of adults with mental illness, if they survive their own battle towards self-destruction. More than 90% of suicides occur in those that have had mental disorders.[iii]

In October of 1980, then outgoing President Jimmy Carter signed the Mental Health Systems Act[iv], which had proposed to continue the federal community mental health centers program, although with some additional state involvement. Just a month later as Ronald Reagan on the heels of taking the presidency and probably before he’d even spent his first weekend in the white house no less read the entire Carter Mental Health Commission file, Reagan dumped the Mental Health Systems act and the appropriated funding to support the state’s programs was immediately blocked.

In this legacy of shame and disregard for the American people, President Reagan never understood mental illness. It wasn’t for lack of exposure as it was reported that several of his own family members suffered from various levels of mental illness. Rather, it was more ignorance and a sheer lack of interest in identifying ways to approach and care for those struggling with it. In the end, much of the out-picturing of that move towards sweeping the issue under the rug became clear as homelessness of the mentally ill soared.

No longer were there facilities or programs to support the growing need. No longer were there appropriations to develop new strategies or research to address the increasing incidents of mental illness. Board and care homes and state hospitals across the nation were bolted and to this day sit like empty horror houses, the haunting echoes of those that once sought care there now only ghosts in the halls.

It’s been a long 34 years since those first days when the shuttering of those services pushed so many back into the streets, homes, schools and of course jails. It wasn’t too long before everyone realized that deinstitutionalization of patients from state mental hospitals was a huge mistake. Crime and homicide doubled and tripled and the percentage of inmates with mental illness increased threefold if not more. And yet, nothing short of band aids were applied on the gaping wound not being addressed. Those band aids aren’t covering the wounds in families in this country. The statistics are undeniable. Mental illness doesn’t just crop up in the adult population, it often begins as young as five years old and there are so few resources for families who are parenting these children it’s ridiculous.

It’s been said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different outcome. Where does change begin? It begins with each of us. Speaking our mind, advocating for those who cannot advocate for themselves and making noise about the inequalities of support services for invisible disabilities. Eradicating the stigma surrounding the need for the services might just be the first step of many, but until we take the first step, we’re not being accountable to the needs of so many. Look around. Count to four. Know the strength in numbers. If two or even three in four stand up for the rights of one in four, change happens – for all of us.[i] National Alliance on Mental Illness, http://www.nami.org/factsheets/mentalillness_factsheet.pdf

[ii] 3/13 -Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Mental Health Surveillance Among Children —United States, 2005–2011
[iii] National Alliance on Mental Illness, http://www.nami.org/factsheets/mentalillness_factsheet.pdf
[iv] Mental Health Systems Act of 1980- http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=45228

Coping Without Medical Insurance

Living without medical insurance
Living without medical insurance

Even with all of the changes happening with healthcare plans, many people are still coping without not having medical insurance. With the new healthcare reform, it is important to look into all of your options because it is becoming more affordable and available with more options than ever before.

Living without health insurance means that you have to look after your body even more than usual. Choosing a healthier lifestyle is a necessity. If you do not have health insurance, it is extremely wise for you to try to live a healthier lifestyle and try to apply for auto and travel insurance should any accidents result in any events from car or adventure sports accidents. Medical costs are extremely pricey and with no coverage whatsoever you will be paying through the pocket if you do not have the right insurance.

Healthy living

Regardless of medical coverage, a healthy lifestyle is important for everyone. One of the things that people can do is to monitor what they eat. For those who cannot afford health insurance this is even tougher because fast food might be the cheapest option, but it is also the unhealthiest type of food to eat. Limiting foods with trans fats is important as is including vegetables and fruits into your daily diet. Overeating can lead to a multitude of health problems including diabetes and heart disease and if you do not have health insurance you will be paying for these medical costs from your pocket.

Living a healthier lifestyle also means looking at other things other than food that can affect your body. Smoking and drinking alcohol are things that should be avoided because they do not help your health and without health, you should limit any risks that can harm your health.

Not only is maintaining a healthy diet important for those who do not have health insurance but an equal part of living a healthy lifestyle is to exercise or take part in some physical activity. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends that adults spend at least 30 minutes a day doing some form of physical activity. Choosing a healthier lifestyle can prevent future illnesses and ailments over time.

ObamaCare: What will medical insurance look like in 2014?

Many Americans are able to receive health insurance through their employer’s plan or through the government with Medicare or Medicaid. However, about 15% of people remain uninsured and they can apply for the ObamaCare open enrollment in the marketplace until March 31, 2014. The new health care plan has caused quite a stir amongst politicians and health insurance companies, but the different available plans are meant to cover essential healthcare benefits people need such as health for women, better overall coverage and promising families that children can stay under their parent’s plan until they are 26 years old. The new law provides for better preventative care, insurance companies can not deny you for having a pre-existing condition, and there are no longer any life-time limits on the care you can receive.

Use the resources you have

Another option for the uninsured is to utilize the resources that you have at your fingertips. There are free or reduced priced clinics in most towns and using these services can keep you relatively healthy until you can get health insurance. Urgent Care facilities can treat diseases and conditions that are not life threatening or are not at the life threatening stage such as bronchitis and pneumonia; this will save on the potential costs of going to an emergency room. Planned Parenthood is a quality organization that can do yearly checkups for women including breast exams. Consult with friends and family to learn about organizations in your area that can do cost effective medical coverage (the internet can also be used for research).

Other insurance options to keep in mind: auto and travel

In order to take care of yourself, keep in mind of other insurance plans that cover different areas that healthcare insurance does not. Look into car insurance quotes that cover bodily injuries for third-party individuals in case of a car accident. If your individual state follows a tort system, medical payments coverage is available to pay for medical bills for both yourself and any passengers in your vehicle.

If you are planning a vacation and/or participating in adventure sports that include potential dangerous activities such as skydiving or bungee jumping, it’s not a bad idea to look into travel insurance either. Because health insurance does not cover auto or travel insurance, you leave yourself susceptible to injuries with very high medical bills.

Living without health insurance can be extremely difficult because sometimes accidents and illness are unavoidable. Living a healthier lifestyle both though diet and exercise changes, adding health coverage through auto or travel insurance and utilizing resources around you can help reduce the stress of living without health insurance until you are able to get the coverage you desire.

Why Pharmacists Are at the Centre of Future Healthcare

In today’s changing medical world, the pharmacist is becoming more important. In many ways, pharmacists are becoming more like mini-doctors, depending on their education and training. Some pharmacists in the United States and UK can even offer some medical advice and prescribe limited medications. This flexible license is vital to the ever-changing and expanding medical world.

Is becoming a pharmacist a viable career? With today’s medical costs rising, becoming a pharmacist is one way to help people without the high costs of 12 years of medical school. Most pharmacists also make a decent salary, making the investment worth it.

Take a look at how the role of the pharmacist is changing below:

Market Concentration

PharmacistOver the next 10-20 years, general practitioners will fade away. What used to be prescribed by practitioners will now be able to be prescribed by pharmacists. Hospitals and doctors will stick to consolidated offerings and specialized treatments. A few organizations may even buy out smaller doctor’s offices.

Self reliance

The economic downturn has made many people less likely to visit an actual doctor. This means that many people will turn to their pharmacist long before they ever step into a doctor’s office. Patients are looking for prevention and self-care methods, rather than treatments like they wanted before. This will enabled pharmacists to become involved with lifestyle management.

Medication Therapy Management (MTM)

Medication Therapy Management is a new role for pharmacists. This is an important role that will only become more important as the decade progresses. MTM is designed to help patients receive the best treatment options for their unique needs, and the pharmacist can take on that role with ease.

Pharmacogenetics

Could medications be used based on the genetic makeup of a person? In modern medicine, the practice is not widely used, but in the future, it is likely that many medications will be offered based on genetics. Pharmacists will be able to help provide the flexibility necessary to identify which medications belong with each unique set of genetics. Pharmacists have a chance to lead along with scientists to discover the true benefits of genetic-based medications.

Primary Care

One new role for the pharmacist is the role of primary care. With the new ability to dispense certain medicines and provide an advice-based role, many pharmacists are uniquely qualified to act as primary care providers for many low-risk patients of any age.

Pharmacists as Doctors

In the past, the pharmacy was simply for dispensing medication. However, today, the pharmacy is more of a community health center, offering health screenings, immunizations, and more. This hybrid between pharmacy and doctor’s office is something that is only beginning to emerge, but has the chance to become a community-based medical center that provides for all patient needs.

Prevention

Prevention is something that the medical industry hasn’t really focused on before now. However, with patients living longer and healthier lives, prevention becomes more important. Nutraceuticals, are foods and food products that provide medical and health benefits on more of a preventative role. This is something that a pharmacist can provide to patients- perhaps even uniting with fitness centers for a total health approach.

The role and future of pharmacists is changing. Rather than simply being pill pushers, the profession is changing and taking a more active role in the prevention and curing of medical illnesses. The pharmacist of today is able to interact directly with patients, offer medical advice, and help a patient take an active, preventative role in his or her health.

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