A Team Effort: Social Workers in Hospice
When most people think of healthcare, they think of nurses and doctors, medicine and surgery. But the nature of caring for patients is far more complex. It takes a team of dedicated professionals, from clinical and administrative to service and support, to cover the full spectrum of patient care.
Patient care can be perceived as solely clinical. But what’s clinical about discussing Power of Attorney? Or making funeral arrangements? Or respite care?
These things aren’t clinical -- but they’re a huge part of healthcare, specifically end-of-life care. That’s where doctors and nurses can tap into the expertise of social workers.
Where do social workers fit in healthcare?
Social workers’ expertise spans many different areas. They have a deep understanding of how to handle a variety of ethnic, cultural and economic environments. They have expertise concerning the services that are available for patients and family in an end-of-life care situation. They’re on the other side of a terminal situation, making sure the emotional and logistical needs of the patient and family are being addressed. They’re the yin to the clinical yang.
Ron Davis, Emotional Support Supervisor for Crossroads Hospice in Green, OH, has witnessed first-hand the positive impact of collaboration between clinical staff and social workers. “Whenever a case has gone well, it’s because the nurse and social worker [communicated and] were well informed on the patient,” he says.
The collaboration between clinical staff and social workers can often times start too late. To ensure that a patient receives the best care, nurses and physicians should begin communicating with social workers as early as possible. “Personally, I don’t think there’s ever a bad time [for social workers and clinical staff to communicate],” Davis says.
Davis started his career in the Cleveland Clinic healthcare system as a social worker. He gravitated toward hospice care after witnessing the impact a social worker can have on the patient and families during what can be a difficult time. “A social worker brings the emotional support,” he says.
What do social workers do?
Social workers don’t have an explicit job description or a five-patient assignment for the day. “In hospice, [the work is] expanded 10-fold,” Davis says. “You’re not just serving the patient; you’re serving family, friends.”
If a social worker’s role had to be boiled down to one objective, it would be keeping the patient as the top priority. “Our role is to be cognizant of a patient’s wishes,” Davis explains.
Social workers in hospice are charged with a variety of tasks to reach this objective, including:
- Providing emotional support in all aspects of the death and dying process
Making funeral arrangements (“I think of it like taxes: We don’t talk about them until we have to do them,” Davis says.)
Helping find monetary resources for funeral expenses, if needed
Finalizing a patient’s living will
Finalizing the durable Power of Attorney for both healthcare and financial
A typical day for a hospice social worker:
“It’s NEVER the same. There’s potential for a new challenge every single day,” Davis says.
Social work is not for those who are check-list oriented. Challenges can pop up around every corner, with any patient or family. “If you’re a person that has to put four or five things down on your list and need to cross them off your list to feel accomplishment, you’re not going to be happy,” Davis says. “It’s okay if you only cross off one of things — there’s something new that comes up every day. Eventually, everything gets done.”
What makes a good social worker?
“Social workers are strongest when they collaborate with the team — the patient’s nurses, physicians, the nurses’ aides. “The social workers that really do it well — they’re notifying the whole team as it’s happening — and it all goes smoothly. It’s just so seamless — and the families really notice that,” Davis says.
To learn more about Crossroads Hospice, please contact us at 888-564-3405.
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