We ask Alethia about social challenges and her hopes for post-COVID life on the horizon.
Social worker, Alethia Watford doesn’t check blood pressure or prescribe medications, but her role is just as critical for kids and teens in our general pediatrics and adolescent medicine clinics. As a clinical social worker, Alethia helps patients and families with everything from transportation to securing food, diapers, mental health support and other necessities to meet their basic needs – without which, a healthy foundation and future are nearly impossible.
Inspired by a desire to help people, Alethia addresses the economic and social conditions that impact the health of her patients – otherwise known as social determinants of health – head on. Most of her patients are considered high-risk in this regard, and the pandemic has only made things more difficult.
“During the pandemic, we have seen many families enter a crisis period from job loss and food insecurity. Virtual schooling adds even more stress as children are isolated from their peers and parents try to balance the demands of work and education,” said pediatrician Dr. Elizabeth Wolf. “Alethia helps our families access local resources and provides empathetic support when they need it the most. Our general pediatric clinic would not be able to function without the hard work of Alethia, and her colleague, Meghan Van Der Eijk.”
We asked Alethia about these challenges and her hopes for post-COVID life on the horizon.
What is your role at CHoR?
I’m a clinical social worker for general pediatrics and adolescent medicine.
What are the greatest challenges you’ve seen families experience during the pandemic?
Some of the greatest challenges have been related to education, social isolation and financial strains. Virtual school has significantly impacted students, not just academically, but socially and emotionally. Children who were previously thriving are experiencing adversity and children who received educational accommodations in the school setting are falling behind without access to the same level of support.
Parents are stressed and feeling a little helpless in not knowing how to best support their children as they too are overwhelmed. The pandemic has vastly impacted the ability of families to work and meet their financial needs which has exacerbated housing and food insecurities that were previously present. The social isolation and other stressors have heightened the need for mental health services but getting connected to timely supportive services is difficult because of the demand.
We’re starting to see some hope that the end of the pandemic is in sight. This is due in part to the vaccines. Did you get a COVID vaccine?
Yes, I did get my vaccine when the health system offered them to team members.
Why did you decide to get the vaccine?
Getting the vaccine was important for protecting myself, my patients and my family. I wanted to do my part to help get this virus under control, for my own mental health and my eagerness for social interaction without fear of being infected and infecting others.
What would you tell people who may be reluctant to get the vaccine?
After acknowledging their reluctancy I would tell them I was also hesitant. I would strongly encourage them to do research, using reputable sources. There is a multitude of sources with helpful information from experts where you can gain the necessary knowledge and have your questions answered to aid in making an informed decision. We each play a role in getting this virus under control and the vaccine is a key component.
What are your hopes for your patients in the coming months?
That anyone who needs and wants the vaccine can get vaccinated. I also hope patients can begin to feel hopeful about returning to a sense of norm or a new norm and that families can get connected to the proper mental, emotional, financial and educational supports and services.
What are you most looking forward to about “life after COVID?”
Traveling, spending time with family and friends, feeling comfortable eating inside a restaurant and attending other social gatherings. I will probably continue to wear a mask in certain spaces.
See a feature on Alethia and her work at CHoR by Richmond magazine.