Social Workers March 20, 2023 – “We are inundated with so much paperwork, it’s not leaving us enough time to actually meet with our patients.” 

“The workload has increased tremendously. A lot more paperwork and unfortunately a lot less time with the patients.” 

“Therapists formerly had 60 patients on a caseload and that was considered full. Today, that caseload is 80, which makes it impossible for therapists to properly care for our patients.” 

Does that sound repetitive? That’s because it is. Those are just some of the responses PEF social workers gave in a recent survey of their profession. And now they’re standing up and saying it’s time for change.  

Their rallying cry is a simple but profound slogan used by PEF parent union, SEIU: “Respect Us, Protect Us, and Pay Us.” 

PEF members who work across the state as social workers, helping New Yorkers access critical care and services, share in this social media video why they love the work they do and what New York must do to make sure they can retain and recruit skilled social workers.  

Getting to the bottom of the matter 

As a social worker for the Office of Mental Health, Elaine Vasilopoulos watched as she and her coworkers sat on the sidelines while psychologists, psychiatrists, and nurses received raises to close pay gaps and recruit and retain staff. 

They wondered why they had been excluded when they face the same issues. 

“I started to do some research on social work employment and jobs and what was going on,” Vasilopoulos said. “I know a lot of people were leaving jobs at my facility and we started asking them why they were leaving. 

“We looked at LinkedIn and we saw places are paying a lot more than New York state and the benefits are similar,” she said. “New York state has been under the impression they paid better and had better benefits. That’s not what we found.” 

As they continued their research, it became apparent just how dire the situation is. 

“We started realizing there is going to be a much bigger problem going forward if this isn’t rectified with better pay and better recognition,” Vasilopoulos said. “There is a nationwide shortage of social workers and it’s predicted to get worse.” 

Social workers aren’t just asking to get paid more – they are asking to be paid fairly. A psychologist 2, with a Master’s in psychology and no license, can be supervised right out of school by a social worker with a clinical license. Three years later, that psychologist 2 automatically becomes a Grade 23. Their previous supervising social worker? Stuck at Grade 20. 

Armed with more information, Vasilopoulos and a team of fellow social workers worked with PEF and the New York State chapter of the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) to survey members and write a 21-page analysis about the results and the crisis facing their profession. 

In October 2022, PEF surveyed 935 of its Licensed Master Social Workers to assess working conditions and job satisfaction. Of that, 279 members completed the 20-question survey. 

The results are telling.  

More than 70% of the respondents indicated their work location had at least one vacancy; 85% admitted they have considered leaving state service; and 82% cited workload as the reason they considered leaving. Low pay, high stress, and increased workloads were the top three reasons cited by survey respondents for why they have considered leaving the profession. 

We can’t afford to lose them 

Social workers treat the whole patient and are unique in that approach. They go beyond just providing therapy or discharge from the hospital. 

“We treat the patients holistically,” Vasilopoulos said. “When we discharge them, we don’t just let them go, we make sure they have somewhere to go, continued services, that they have food, electric. When you lose social workers, you lose that holistic support for those patients.” 

At a recent lobby day in Albany organized by NASW, one man working in the prison system said he had 238 patients on his caseload. He could only see patients once every other month.  

“How is he going to be able to help that population?” Vasilopoulos said. “Teenage suicide and depression are going up. The number of social workers is going down. How are you going to address that problem?” 

Click here if you would like to send a letter to agency management and your local legislators about these issues. 

Click here to access the PEF report: “Crisis in Care: High stress, low pay impact New York State-employed social workers.”