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A Social Worker’s Role in End of Life Care

It’s National Professional Social Work Month — what better time to celebrate the important role of social workers in the hospice care system? If you have a loved one currently in end of life care in San Francisco and elsewhere, you know how integral the social worker is to the patient and family, helping everyone navigate through this difficult time.

Social work is a key component of the U.S. health care system, as these professionals impact all areas of the health care continuum. Not only do they provide services to individuals and families throughout the lifespan, but they also address the full range of bio-psychosocial issues that affect well-being, according to the National Association of Social Workers. As advocates for improving access to health care, especially for vulnerable populations such as the elderly and those in hospice, social workers no doubt form an important part of the health care system.

A Well-Rounded Approach

A cohesive, standardized and well-rounded approach to end-of-life care will address issues related to the patient, family, caregivers, and the health care team involved in providing said care. Patients who need hospice care often go through extreme challenges, including:

  • Anger, depression, and anxiety
  • Intense discomfort and physical pain
  • Social isolation
  • Financial strain
  • Family conflict

This is why the inclusion of social workers to the team is very important in order to guide patients and families through the many challenges and pitfalls they will encounter, along with identifying opportunities to help them with the process of end-of-life planning. They also help them manage the mental, emotional, monetary and familial stressors that are associated with debilitating physical illness, understand patient treatment plans and become their advocate, overcome crisis situations, and connect to area support services, says Today’s Geriatric Medicine.

Hospice social work is crucial when it comes to honoring patients who have serious illnesses as they prepare them for what comes next. Because their roles are all-encompassing, social workers have to establish strong emotional boundaries to assist patients in determining their goals of care and achieving them in a realistic way. They also have to be flexible because every situation is different and unique. As such, they have to rapidly adjust to a new environment every day, playing a key role in giving insight and advising other members of the hospice health care team.

Because the social worker is often present during deeply stressful times for everyone involved, hospice social work can be a big challenge. However, the rewards allow them to foster deep connections with patients and family members as they celebrate life stories.

Services Social Workers Provide

Social workers involved in end of life care must have the character, knowledge, and skills to do their jobs well, which means they have to focus on the goals and needs of patients and their family caregivers. Here are some of the key services they provide:

  • Counseling and psychotherapy for everyone involved, including suicide risk assessment
  • Psychosocial education regarding coping skills, hospice care philosophies, and non-medication symptom management strategies
  • In-services to other organizations and providers
  • Community education workshops
  • Discharge planning and care coordination
  • Facilitation of caregiver support and advance care planning
  • Crisis intervention
  • Advice on legal matters, including medical benefits, finances and veteran status
  • Participation in interdisciplinary team meetings, ethics consultations and care planning
  • Patient and family advocate
  • Conflict mediation
  • Addressing safety issues regarding the environment and concerns regarding potential neglect and abuse

Social workers must bring in-depth knowledge and expertise to the table in working with cultural, ethnic, and economic diversity; family and support networks; symptom management on a multi-dimensional basis; bereavement; interventions across the lifecycle; interdisciplinary practice; and navigation of various health care systems. They must also concern themselves with enhancing the quality of life of patients and promoting their well-being. It’s their job to get to know each patient regarding personal and family history, according to Very Well Health.

If the family is under unusual stress and can’t come to terms with how they view the dying process, the social worker can step in to help family members accept the decisions made by their loved one regarding their death. They can also help them cope with the aftermath and grieve in a healthy way. They can guide them to support groups, therapy and more in order to be better able to process the loss after it happens and even before in many cases.

Contact Pathways Home Health and Hospice

Our hospice care teams always include a social worker to assist the patient and family members during end of life care. To learn more about our social workers’ role in your loved one’s end of life care, please contact us at 888-978-1306. Our social workers are here to guide, advise, listen, counsel, and connect families with community support systems of all kinds.