National Social Work Month: Recognizing Our Patient Advocates
Each March we recognize National Social Work Month along with the National Association of Social Workers. This year’s theme is “All People Matter,” raising awareness of the profession’s 116-year-old commitment to improving social conditions and quality of life for everyone. Across the globe, social workers are united in the belief that all people deserve to be treated with dignity and respect.
Social workers support people at all stages of life to function better within their circumstances, improve relationships and resolve personal and family problems. Through a counseling approach, they help people overcome a range of difficult challenges from grief and mental illness to abuse, addiction, and poverty.
A Growing Field
With more than 650,000 social workers in the United States and an aging baby boomer generation in need of care, the U.S. Department of Labor Bureau Statistics reports that social work is one of the fastest growing careers in the nation. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration also found that social workers are the country’s largest group of mental health service providers. There are more clinically trained social workers than psychiatrists, psychologists and psychiatric nurses combined.
United by the desire to improve life, social workers can be found in every area of the community – from schools, hospitals and senior centers to the military or elected offices. Medical and public health social workers provide support to patients as they cope with acute, chronic or terminal illnesses. Social workers also provide support to family caregivers, and help plan for patients’ needs after discharge from a hospital or a facility, including arranging at-home services like hospice care.
The Role of the Hospice and Palliative Care Social Worker
Whether sudden or part of a gradual progression of a disease, the end of a person’s life is a significant experience that impacts the individual, his or her loved ones, and the legacy they leave behind. According to the NASW, the need for social workers trained in working with palliative and end-of-life care has increased because of rising rates in chronic illness, increasing numbers of elderly people and longer life spans.
Hospice care is provided through a team approach, and social workers are essential members of the team. In a hospice and palliative care setting, a social worker may do any of the following:
Identify emotional and spiritual needs of the patient and their loved ones.
Assist patients and families in making health care decisions based on goals of care.
Identify financial and other resources to meet basic needs such as rent and payment for medications.
Assist families with navigating health systems and benefits, such as Medicare and Medicaid.
Ensure the patient's end-of-life wishes are documented.
Assist loved ones with necessary arrangements and paperwork after death occurs.
Provide counseling and support around loss, grief and bereavement.
In our next post, we’ll explore the role of the hospice social worker on a deeper level and address the many “hats” these patient advocates wear as they support patients and families. You’ll also hear from some of Crossroads Hospice’s team members, as they provide insight into their roles and share meaningful patient experiences.
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