Former Norseman staff member’s take on COVID-19: Emily Nash – Class of 2014

Life for anyone in the social work field is chaotic, but there’s never a dull moment. I’ve been a case manager at Meals on Wheels Central Texas for almost two years. My day to day at Meals on Wheels looks something like this: go into the office in the mornings to do paperwork and return phone calls, and then go out in the field, which is the heart of my job. Since I primarily work with older adults with disabilities, field work at Meals on Wheels means I get to go into my clients’ homes to make sure their most basic needs are met in terms of food, housing, and attendant care. I absolutely love this part of my job. I cherish the moments I have with my clients where they feel comfortable enough showing me old photos of themselves, their children, their spouse. The moments where they open up about their interests, their fears, different eras of their lives. The most interesting, and arguably most valuable, people in Austin are the people who have lived in this city for decades. I am lucky enough to be assigned to clients in the east side of Austin, which is historically very Black and Brown, and this is such a culturally rich and important part of the city. 

Yet, there are obstacles that come with this job. Aging in this country is not easy, especially for lower class people of color. Navigating healthcare, social security and other governmental assistance programs, while managing bills and chronic health conditions is challenging, especially when they have no one advocating for them. That is why meeting with my clients in their homes is so important. So much of my job is based on observation: the conditions of their home, how mobile they are, and even what their support system is. With all this in mind, one can imagine that this global pandemic has been somewhat of a crisis for a lot of these folks, and has posed a new set of challenges for us case managers. My job, that required me to see people face to face to assess their needs, is now completely remote. I am making phone calls to my clients from my dining room, doing my best to connect with them virtually. We now deliver meals once every two weeks instead of Monday through Friday, and for many already isolated clients, seeing their volunteer with a hot meal five days a week was something to look forward to. My job has completely shifted because of COVID-19.

It has certainly been an adjustment, to say the least, and I can’t even say that I’m fully adjusted to this new norm even after four weeks of working from home. I think it’s safe to say that all case managers and social workers are struggling to feel like they’re efficiently doing their jobs from home, when so many of us are usually out in the field. We already work under a system that works against some of the most vulnerable people; now that we’re in a crisis, it has become even more apparent that the most underprivileged are suffering the most. My clients, who are already immunocompromised, have expressed that they aren’t able to see their regular doctors now, are struggling to make ends meet financially, and have no way of getting groceries. For my undocumented clients, the situation is even more dire, as there are very few resources out there that support them. As one single case manager, unfortunately there’s just not a lot I can do for my clients. That’s already the most frustrating thing about this type of work, and now, I’m feeling all the more frustrated.

I miss my clients. I miss being out in the field. I feel so lucky that I’m still employed and that I’m a generally healthy person who doesn’t have to live in too much fear right now. At the same time, I hope that this pandemic has shed a light on all of the structural changes that need to be made in this country to support our disadvantaged populations. I would say that I’m ready for things to go back to normal, but it’s more accurate to say that I hope for a better future.