Date of Award

Spring 5-2020

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Advisor(s)

SALLY VERNON PHD

Second Advisor

SHERYL MCCURDY PHD

Third Advisor

PAULA CUCCARO PHD

Abstract

Hurricane Harvey brought 33 trillion gallons of rainfall to Texas and Louisiana and damaged more than 100,000 homes in August 2017. Social workers worked during and after the storm to provide services to those affected. The primary research question guiding this dissertation was: What were social workers’ experiences as they were involved in relief efforts during and immediately after Hurricane Harvey? The study group comprised 39 participants (35 female, 4 male); of these, 19 were masters-level social workers who volunteered at shelters in Houston following Hurricane Harvey, 14 were masters-level social workers who worked at a pediatric children’s hospital on “ride-out” staff during Hurricane Harvey, and five were members of the pediatric hospital’s leadership guiding social work staff during ride-out. A narrative oral history framework was used to elicit all participants’ lived experiences of volunteering at public shelters and working at the pediatric hospital. Semi-structured qualitative interviews were conducted, transcribed, and added to NVivo for analysis. Using thematic analysis, the 19 shelter volunteer transcripts were coded into major themes. The 20 hospital transcripts informed a bounded-time case study resulting in a chronology of events and lessons learned from the ride-out experience. Resulting themes from analysis of the shelter papers included 1) social workers’ desire to serve, 2) the role of news and social media in social work volunteerism; 3) recognition and utilization of social workers as professionals; 4) identifying groups perceived to be in the most need of social work services; 5) listening and the need for connection; 6) assessing needs and problem-solving; and 7) respecting the dignity and worth of shelter guests. Results of the case study indicated a need for flexibility, the need for support for hospital staff (including participants) whose personal lives were affected, and dissatisfaction among full-time ride-out staff due to miscommunication about emergency pay. In conclusion, this study emphasizes the need for more public education about social workers’ skills to better utilize them as volunteers and the need for flexibility in social work roles in a disaster setting as environments and needs change. In terms of shelter volunteers, specific recommendations include providing more services for older adults, using social media to recruit social work volunteers who are familiar with local resources, and consolidating resource lists. In hospitals, recommendations include clarifying expectations for social workers prior to disaster events, maintaining open communication between social workers and their leaders throughout and after the disaster, and utilizing social workers as support for one another and other hospital staff.

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