Responding to vulnerable people: Emergency social work practice in nursing homes in Wuhan, China

Prepared by

Yan Huang, Assistant Professor, Department of Social Work, School of Health, Fujian Medical University

Jingrong Chen, MSW, Department of Social Work, School of Sociology and Anthropology, Xiamen University

Since January this year, China has been shrouded in the shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic. Wuhan, the front-line city in fighting the coronavirus, has faced multiple challenges that have necessitated more than medical attention during this period. Among them, was the challenge of the lack of material supplies and health care services faced by local nursing facilities which caught social workers’ attention soon after the lockdown of the entire city. The priority institutions for this project were not the large publicly funded nursing facilities, but small or medium-sized ones. This aimed to give practical social work support through online coordination.


Target the items most wanted: Focus on needs

It is critical for social workers to know what was the wanted most. For those small and medium-sized nursing homes, the lack of on-duty experienced staff, medical prevention materials like face masks, and nursing supplies were the most challenging issues. With highly limited resources, these agencies had to simplify the contents of daily services and lower the level of care offered to older people with Alzheimer or other forms of dementia, and this posed potential risks in lowering the quality of life of older people.


Build another way of support: A cross-region platform

In terms of various materials like nursing supplies, instead of organizing direct donation to these nursing homes, the project team established a cross-region platform to identify needs, link resources, locate and integrate resources, and cooperate with social work agencies, volunteer groups and 8 foundations nation-wide to leverage social resources and assist the targeted nursing homes. All the actions were taken quickly, and every team member worked collaboratively to make sure all the resources were matched to the actual needs of each nursing home.


Launch another way of providing services: A cross-domain collaborative network     

In terms of service support, a multi-partner network including bereavement counselling experts, dispute coordination experts, medical social workers, gerontological social workers and university teachers was launched by the project team to provide professional assistance to the nursing homes requiring these. Through regular online meetings, topics like reducing the level of anxiety among staff during the agency lockdown, dealing with an older person’s death, and proper communication methods with the older person’s family members were discussed in-depth and practical advice was been given to agencies like the Jiuzhoutong Nursing Home, An’tai Nursing Home, and Yiyangtianxiang Nursing Home in Wuhan.


As the documentary “Don’t Panic, Wuhan, We Are Waiting for You!” claims, Love and hope always expand faster than the virus[1]. Staying strong and united, working together and collaboratively with multi-discipline experts and social workers, we can defeat the virus. Hopefully the experience from this project will provide new insights to other colleagues fighting COVID-19 elsewhere. Collaboration across a regional platform works!










[1] Don’t panic, Wuhan, we are waiting for you!  (Hubei Broadcasting and Television Station), 2020,