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Hospice Social Workers: How They Help Patients and Their Families

Hospice can represent a very difficult time in the lives of patients as well as their close family members. You may be confused, scared, overwhelmed, or all of the above. You’re understandably vulnerable right now and need someone who can hold your hand through it all. Who will break through the clinical atmosphere of the hospital, hospice center, or medical facility to ensure you understand the whole process? Who will provide you with the compassion, caring attitude and objectivity to get things moving along while at the same time addressing each of your concerns? The answer is a hospice social worker.

An Integral Part of the Team

Social workers are an integral part of your interdisciplinary hospice care team. Along with a registered nurse (RN), physician, aide, chaplain, pharmacist and vigil volunteers, you get access to a social worker whose job it is to listen, counsel, and connect families with community support systems. While you may crave the straightforward nature of the doctor or the attentive care of the RN, sometimes you crave a shoulder to cry on, someone who can make sure you are connecting with the right resources to help you through your pain.

There are many ways in which a hospice social worker can help patients and their families. Let’s take a look at a few.

Social workers start difficult discussions: No one really wants to be faced with life or death scenarios. Those choices are extremely difficult to make, let alone initiate. Someone has to start that discussion about moving to hospice, and the person who facilitates that conversation is often the hospice social worker. In fact, they are key in encouraging difficult but important discussions among families, patients and providers that can help them make better palliative care decisions, says Social Work Today.

Social workers can work with patients individually: Sometimes in our haste to figure things out, get a plan in place, and execute it, we often times fail to remember the patient is in pain too — but that pain is compounded because it is physical on top of emotional and spiritual. The social worker can work one-on-one with the patient to just sit and talk, help relieve their fears and anxieties, and talk to them about depression. Often times, patients in hospice don’t want to burden their family members with the pain and confusion they’re feeling inside so they tend to hide it. A social worker offers them an outlet to let out their feelings and talk about what to expect without risking upsetting loved ones. Ultimately, social workers are patient advocates, and they often help the patient carry out their final wishes.

Social workers have the appropriate credentialing and education: Certified Hospice and Palliative Social Worker (CHP-SW) have bachelor’s degrees and help address the psychosocial needs of patients and families affected by life-limiting illness in an effort to maintain or improve their quality of life, according to the National Association of Social Workers.

Social workers sort out practical matters: In addition to having those emotional conversations with patients and families, social workers must also guide them through the practical matters. These can include anything from pension claims and insurance to employment, finances, housing, children, or future care, says The Guardian. This can also include discussions about what the patient will need for functioning in the home during hospice care, as well as referrals to occupational therapists.

Social workers help connect families with support groups: Identifying community or financial resources for the families and the patients is a large part of what a hospice social worker does. Cancer support groups, death and dying support groups…there are all types out there. Some are for children or parents of children, while others are for adults. Finding those resources in your town on your own is the last thing you want to think about. Having someone you trust hand you a folder of where to get the emotional help and guidance you need is a big help. Often times, it’s extremely therapeutic to bond with others in your same situation and lean on each other for support. The Mayo Clinic says support groups can help you cope more effectively and feel less isolated as you make connections with others facing similar challenges.

Having a network of support beyond family and friends can provide patients and their loved ones with a different way to connect. A good hospice care social worker will know all the resources offered in a particular community. For example, Pathways Home Health and Hospice offers grief support groups, workshops, and grief counseling for hospice families facing such an uncertain time in their lives.

Contact Pathways Home Health and Hospice

Our social workers are a key part of our interdisciplinary hospice care team. Call us at 800-755-7855 or fill out our online form for more information. We would be happy to discuss every member of your team and how they work together to make sure your hospice experience is peaceful, honest and supportive.