The Role of the Hospice Social Worker
When we speak about hospice care, often the first thing that comes to mind is the importance of the medical care of the patient. Controlling pain and symptoms, managing medications, and addressing other immediate concerns related to their illness. A major benefit to the families who accept hospice care is the coordination of all these things so they can focus on being present with their loved one for whatever period of time they may have.
But how exactly does a patient and their family begin to process the words terminal illness, death, and the countless thoughts and emotions that come along with them?
Fortunately, hospice care uses a person and family-centered approach that includes a team of clinicians including doctors, nurses, home health aides, chaplains, counselors, trained volunteers, and social workers.
In hospice care, social workers are tasked with addressing the many emotional and psychological issues patients and families face when they travel this phase of their journey. They work to assess and evaluate the situations patients find themselves in from a problem-solving perspective. Their insights, support, and recommendations can greatly improve the experience of the patient and their family.
The social worker gets to know the patient and the background of their personal and family history, including identifying any military service. This information, as well as learning their view of the dying process, is important to collect so the social worker can help the patient and family work together in making healthcare decisions based on their goals of care.
Sometimes, a social worker will find a family under unusual stress, or with particular or unusual concerns about what they are facing as a family. In this case, the social worker may help mediate family discussions to help get everyone on the same page.
During this time, all family members may not agree with the patient’s decisions to accept hospice care. Social workers are specially trained to resolve conflict and help with the acceptance of the patient’s wishes. For many families, these can be very emotionally charged situations and social workers assist in keeping the focus on what is important to the patient.
One of the scariest things present during this time can be fear of the unknown. The clinical team works to prepare patients and families with knowledge of what they might expect during the process. Most importantly, social workers help people to accept their emotions about the situation.
At Hospice of St. Lawrence Valley, social workers have the assistance of Resource Advocate, Brandy Walton, who works to connect families to community care agencies, respite services, Lifeline, legal services, housing, home delivered meals, prescription coverage, utility assistance and much more. Together, the social work team provides important guidance through the process of establishing managed long-term care in the home and facilitate nursing home placements if needed.
Navigating life with an advanced illness can involve countless confusing insurance matters and completing applications for nursing home placement, Medicare, and VA services can be exhausting. Hospice staff have established relationships with the many services available to our community members and work to ensure they have the fullest support available as they care for their loved one.
For many patients and families who choose hospice care, coordination of care removes a huge burden. The ripple effect of an illness and the death of a loved one moves through the entire family and it is important with this model of care that support is offered to everyone affected by the situation. Each person experiences this process differently and they are treated as individuals when difficult emotions arise.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, we would like to remind families they can seek additional information on hospice care and even refer a family member to our services. Our staff will work with a person’s physician to determine if they are eligible for hospice care or our Advanced Illness Management program. For more information call 315-265-3105.