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Staff Spotlight: Lacy Rardin, MSW, LCSWA

Monday, April 27, 2020
L Rardin

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Lacy Rardin, MSW, LCSWA, helped families with movement or memory disorders cope with their diagnosis, find support, and navigate life with their conditions in our Morreene Road Clinic. Now, she’s providing the same resources and help to those patients virtually via telephone or video calls. For this week’s “Spotlight” interview, Rardin talks to us about how she became interested in clinical social work, the joys and challenges of working with her patient group, and strategies she’s using to help her patients and herself stay connected while physically apart.

What were your pre-COVID-19 responsibilities within the Department, and how have those responsibilities changed over the past month?
I work as a licensed clinical social worker associate (LCSWA) for the movement and memory disorder teams at the Morreene Road Clinic. This involves primarily working with folks who have Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease, and many different forms of dementia. To meet the needs of these populations, my role is highly varied. I provide in-person consults for patients and families expressing many different kinds of psychosocial needs.

This often involves providing counseling around adjustment to the diagnosis of a chronic illness, offering caregiver support, addressing any barriers to care, crisis intervention work, behavioral health assessments, connecting families to resources in the community, running support groups, and helping to facilitate educational events in the community. Fortunately, I am still able to continue providing these same services for our patients and families in the face of covid-19, just in a different platform. While I may not be meeting with patients and families face-to-face, I can provide the same type of support over the telephone.

How are patients living with movement or memory disorders being affected by the COVID-19 outbreak? How are you and your colleagues working to help this population?

This is a particularly stressful time for the populations we serve in the movement and memory disorder clinics. Some of the folks we work with are in the highest category of risk for the virus, and that, in and of itself causes significant anxiety. Our goal during this time is to help patients navigate and cope with these feelings of anxiety and uncertainty. 

In addition to the heightened anxiety, we are also finding that the elderly population in general is at an increased risk for feeling isolated during this time. Nursing homes and adult care homes are excluding visitors and discontinuing any social gatherings. Many of our patients are spending their days alone, which we know, can have negative impacts on mental health and wellbeing. 

While we acknowledge the importance of isolating from others, we are trying to reframe this idea of “social distancing” for our patients and families. We are emphasizing the importance of “physical distancing” while still maintaining close social connection with friends and family via telephone, Facetime, zoom, or other platform. We are trying to increase this engagement by staying in contact with our patients, encouraging family members to connect with patients, connecting to virtual events and activities happening in the community, and we are currently in the process of transitioning our own support groups to a virtual format.

How did you decide to become a social worker, and how did you decide to work with our Morreene Road Clinic?

I always knew that I wanted to be in a helping profession. In college, I became interested in clinical social work after working in a research lab that focused on anxiety disorders. The principles of social work were appealing to me because they focused on looking at the whole person within the context of their environment, culture, support system, values, and beliefs rather than looking at the problem in isolation. I also liked that social work emphasizes the importance of using a strengths-based approach. Prior to joining the team at the Morreene Road Clinic, while obtaining my Master’s degree at UNC School of Social Work, I completed my internship with the movement disorders team. During my time as a student intern, I found my work with this specific population to be incredibly meaningful. When a position opened up, I was excited to continue working in a similar capacity as an employee.

What do you enjoy most about your work?
I enjoy so many things about the work that I do with the movement and memory disorder teams. I most enjoy getting to build relationships with patients and families, and think it is an honor to be a small piece of their journey. I also really appreciate how much learning occurs on a regular basis. Whether I am learning intervention strategies from my social work colleagues in the clinic, learning about the diseases themselves, or learning about the research, there are so many opportunities to learn and grow as a clinician. 

I have also really enjoyed getting to do work in the community for the populations we serve. In particular, I help run a support group for those affected by Huntington’s disease. Because this is a relatively rare disease, we often have the important role of connecting these families. I’ve really enjoyed watching our support group grow, and it is wonderful to see the connections and friendships being made as a result of the group.

What’s the hardest part of your job?
Due to the nature of neurodegenerative illnesses, our families’ journeys can be filled with so much uncertainty. Helping families navigate that unpredictability can be particularly difficult. At times, I find it really challenging to work in a field where there is no easy fix, solution, or cure for these illnesses. Often, the most powerful thing that I can do as a clinician is to simply share space with that person or family going through such a tremendously difficult time.

How has the epidemic affected your life outside of Duke? What’s one positive strategy or resource you’ve found that helps you cope?

Like with most people, I am spending quite a bit more time in my home. While I would normally enjoy spending time with my family and friends outside of work, I am having to find new ways to entertain myself while complying with the covid-19 precautions. I continue to walk outside for exercise and have found that this has helped me cope with any unpleasant feelings that may arise in the context of everything going on. Another strategy I use is to simply allow myself to feel the way I am feeling. This is an uncertain time, and we are all experiencing an array of difficult emotions. Recognizing that these feelings are normal and OK has helped me cope and is a perspective I often offer to my patients as well. I have also been using inventive ways to continue to stay in touch with friends and family. Just last week, my entire extended family had a family game night over Zoom.

What other passions or hobbies do you have outside of the Department?

I am originally from the mountains and absolutely love spending time outdoors hiking, picnicking, tubing, etc. Since moving to the triangle, I am always on the lookout for a good trail to hike with my dog, Lola. I also consider myself to be a foodie and enjoy trying different local restaurants across the triangle. My other passions include watching Carolina basketball, dancing, and spending time with friends.


Lacy and her fiancé, Kerry, explore the Blue Ridge Parkway with their dog Lola.