- EVENTS & RESOURCES
- PATIENT REFERRALS
- PROFESSIONAL EDUCATION
When a family chooses the time for a loved one to go onto hospice care, they open the doors to a full circle of support that goes beyond nursing. One professional on the team is your medical social worker. What is the role of social work in hospice? Hope Hospice’s Veronica Martin, MSW, ASW, explains:
Each patient at Hope Hospice is assigned a social worker to be a part of the interdisciplinary team in developing a plan of care for the patient and family. The social worker is available to assist patients and their loved ones or caregivers in navigating the practical and emotional issues that arise during the end-of-life journey.
It is not the job of a hospice social worker to impose any particular agenda, but to simply follow the lead of the patient and family. A social worker is available to provide counseling to the patient and family, to address their concerns, and to support their wishes. I like to describe it as being in a vehicle passenger seat, holding up the map and pointing to the right section so the driver can navigate smartly and efficiently.
One role of social work in hospice is to connect the family with needed resources. These might be getting medical equipment such as a hospital bed delivered to the home, legal resources for needs like obtaining power of attorney and advance directives, or finding caregiving support to relieve family members.
The social worker provides a home safety assessment to coach the family on any areas that may pose concerns or challenges for the patient. Needs vary depending on the patient’s physical abilities; some areas of review include slipping and tripping hazards for patients who are still mobile and medication organization. Loved ones are understandably overwhelmed at this time, so it is common to overlook safety hazards in the home.
The role of social work in hospice also includes helping the family through post-death arrangements, including connecting with a funeral home, paperwork, and other sensitive concerns.
Perhaps a lesser known but most appreciated role that the social worker serves is providing emotional support. Hospice also makes available spiritual care and grief support services to the family, but the social worker is typically the initial resource here, too.
You might think of your social worker as your family unit’s personal stronghold. Your project manager. Your keeper of sanity. He or she has tools to help the patient and family manage stress, think through things, cope with anticipatory grief, understand the dying process, and ensure all voices are heard.
That last one is a biggie. Not all family members may be on the same page when it comes to transitioning from seeking curative care to comfort care. Hospice is comfort care, which means the individual has accepted his or her life-limiting condition and changes focus to pain management and finding ways to make the most of the time they have left.
While it is imperative that the patient and immediate family be in agreement to start hospice, it is somewhat common to experience pushback from extended family and friends. With time and healthy conversation, those having such difficulty usually come to a place of acceptance. But there are cases with complex issues that benefit from counseling and mediated conversation, and this is where your social worker can help. In some cases where there is a need for additional psychological counseling, a social worker will offer resources for expert counseling from local providers.
Dying is not an easy task. It is not passive. It is a season (short for some, long and tedious for others) full of a range of emotions for all involved. The role of social work in hospice is to meet the patient and family wherever they are in their unique journey and to assist with difficult end-of-life conversations.
At Hope Hospice, our social work team’s mantra is to always be compassionate, sensitive, and respectful as we help each person to have a peaceful death with dignity and love.
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