Hospice is a philosophy of care that treats the person rather than the disease, and focuses on maintaining quality of life. Social workers go beyond tending to a patient’s physical symptoms, and are committed to addressing emotional and spiritual needs as part of the care team. Val Criswell, a ten-year veteran of Crossroads Hospice and the Director of Kansas City’s Emotional Spiritual Team, is an expert in serving patients through this holistic approach with the support of her dedicated team of social workers and chaplains.
“One of the most rewarding things is helping a family come together and realize that even though their loved one is at the end of life, there is so much more they have to give, and so much more the family can share with them,” she says. “It’s about guiding patients and families to be able to heal, reminisce and come together to make this a beautiful and peaceful time.”
From Teacher to Student
Val worked in the Kansas City public school system for 20 years as an elementary school teacher. Though she loved her job, it was her experiences with medical and social workers that inspired her to go back to school and pursue her master’s degree in the field.
“In 1991, I was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma and went through surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. Social workers were a big support to me during this time,” she says. “In 2002, when my mother passed away, again I was thrown into the medical community with doctors and social workers and hospitals. I just knew then it was time for me to retire from teaching and go back to school. When I started working toward my degree, I knew I wanted to work for hospice. That’s what my heart really called me to do.”
While in graduate school, Val completed an internship with Crossroads. She was offered a full-time position once she graduated, and never looked back. “We give hospice care that is second to none. When we say we do more, we really do. I will say that our social workers do not leave any stone unturned. If there is a resource out there for a family, we’re going to track it down. We go the extra mile.”
The Mother Hen
Val is a self-described “mama hen.” Conditioned from her elementary teaching days, she imparts words of encouragement and enthusiasm on her staff at every turn. “My social workers and chaplains laugh at me because I’m not only such a mother hen, but I’m still that elementary school teacher. You should ask my team how many times in a day I tell them they’re doing a good job. I love when my staff does something wonderful for their patients or their families. One of my social workers was Employee of the Year for 2013 and I just cried and cried because I was so proud. It is very much a family here.”
Like any good mother hen, Val’s responsible not just for praising the good work of her team, but supporting them through difficult aspects of their jobs. “I manage the day-to-day things, the paperwork and those sorts of tasks. I’m here to motivate my staff, support them if they have challenging situations, and to be a sounding board. My biggest role is to provide encouragement. They can always come to me and ask questions or run through difficulties. I am blessed with amazing social workers and amazing chaplains. I give them the autonomy to do their job and I know they do it well.”
She cites her inner-drive to keep improving as her daily motivator. “I always strive to do better and be better in the position that I’m in. To be better for the social workers and chaplains, for the patients and their families, and for the good of Crossroads.”
Honoring Our Social Workers
We’re proud to honor Val as our Crossroads Hospice “Staff Spotlight” recipient of the month, and recognize our social workers who work tirelessly to serve our patients and families each day, such as: Tom Brooks in Atlanta, Marie Sutton in Dayton, Lori Davidson in Lenexa, Teesha Clark-Dismuke in Memphis, Trinity Njegovan in Northeast Ohio, Lindsey Crowley in Oklahoma City, and Kathe Sobczak in Philadelphia.
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