Abstract: (see Poster Gallery) Immigrant Social Service Providers' Work Stress and Mental Health across Three Phases of the Pandemic (Society for Social Work and Research 27th Annual Conference - Social Work Science and Complex Problems: Battling Inequities + Building Solutions)

All in-person and virtual presentations are in Mountain Standard Time Zone (MST).

SSWR 2023 Poster Gallery: as a registered in-person and virtual attendee, you have access to the virtual Poster Gallery which includes only the posters that elected to present virtually. The rest of the posters are presented in-person in the Poster/Exhibit Hall located in Phoenix A/B, 3rd floor. The access to the Poster Gallery will be available via the virtual conference platform the week of January 9. You will receive an email with instructions how to access the virtual conference platform.

654P (see Poster Gallery) Immigrant Social Service Providers' Work Stress and Mental Health across Three Phases of the Pandemic

Sunday, January 15, 2023
Phoenix C, 3rd Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
* noted as presenting author
Jennifer Siegel, MSW, Social Work PhD Student, University of Maryland at Baltimore, Baltimore, MD
Tural Mammadli, MSW, PhD Student, University of Maryland Baltimore, Baltimore, MD
Nalini Negi, PhD, Associate Professor, University of Maryland Baltimore, Baltimore, MD
The COVID-19 pandemic has been a defining event in modern history significantly impacting social services. Providers have been stretched thin working on the frontlines of mental health care and critical services with society’s most vulnerable throughout the pandemic. Yet, the toll of this work on social service providers is largely under-examined. Among social service providers, those who work with immigrants may be an important group to study as immigrant social services in the U.S. are impacted by structural barriers, including federal and state policies that restrict access to health insurance, critical services and care. As Latinos in the U.S. have experienced disproportionate COVID-19 burden, this study explores the mental health of social service providers who primarily worked with Latino immigrants across the pandemic. We first describe the conditions of work and psychological distress of providers (N=100). Next, we qualitatively provide insights regarding how 18 of these participants described their unfolding lives over the course of a year during the pandemic.

Methods: Social service providers serving Latino immigrants in the Maryland-Washington DC region (N=100) were surveyed regarding social support, work-related stress and psychological distress (Kessler-6). A sub-sample (n=18) completed open-ended questions across three distinct phases of the COVID-19 pandemic: (1) during stay-at-home orders (April 2020), (2) during re-implementation of restrictions due to rising cases (November 2020), and (3) after vaccines became widely available (June 2021).

Results: Nearly 40% reported that their organization had “some of the time” or “never enough” direct service providers to meet the needs of their limited English proficient clients. About a third reported that their organization was able to meet the needs of their clients to a small extent or not at all during the pandemic, and only 9% reported that the federal administration facilitated access to reliable and language appropriate information about COVID-19. Over half indicated that the Trump administration heightened immigrants’ fear of seeking services, and 10% reported clinical levels of psychological distress.

In regards to the sub-sample, at the start of the pandemic, providers reported feeling stressed by the rapid transition to telehealth from in-person with little to no training or experience. They expressed feeling on 24/7 trying to meet the rising and urgent needs of their clients. As COVID cases surged (November 2020), they transitioned to client preferred apps (Whatsapp) vs telehealth portals. Providers reported feeling overwhelmed trying to meet the rising needs of their clients in the face of increased layoffs of Spanish-speaking staff and associated limited immigrant services. After vaccines became widely available, fewer providers reported feeling overwhelmed by their work, but spoke about feeling burnt out and desiring work-life balance and increased dissatisfaction with their organizations.

Conclusions: This study provides an important descriptive snapshot of immigrant social services in the first phase of the pandemic. Further, it elucidates critical temporal information, for over a year, regarding how providers’ experienced the evolving pandemic and their unfolding work lives. Such insights have the potential to reveal the structural factors and associated mechanisms that shape social change and renewed conditions of social work.