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March 31, 2016

Health Matters: The important role of hospice social workers
by Sarah Shepard, Care Dimensions Manager of Psycho-Social Support Services

Danvers Herald - Not available online

            When we reach the last stage of our lives, there is perhaps nothing more important than being present in the moment, of relishing each and every second that we have with our loved ones. Through hospice care, there is a special type of professional who helps people do that: social workers. As March is National Social Work Month it’s a good time to pay tribute to the many social workers who play such a vital role in all aspects of health and human services. At Care Dimensions, we honor their compassion, integrity and multifaceted skills that benefit not only our patients and their families but also their colleagues.
            But what do hospice social workers do? As essential members of the hospice interdisciplinary team, hospice social workers work alongside physicians, nurses, chaplains, home health aides, volunteers and families to provide a comprehensive plan of care for the patient. An initial conversation with a social worker will focus on the patient’s goals for care. While these conversations are difficult, hospice social workers are able to help make important conversations happen, while keeping everyone informed.
            Topics for this discussion might include:

-Who the patient would like for their healthcare proxy to make healthcare decisions when
  they are no longer able to speak for themselves
-Whether the patient wants to be resuscitated or hospitalized
-Where the patient prefers to die
-Assistance with funeral planning

            In many circumstances, hospice social workers enable patients and families to address any unfinished business, such as reconnecting with family members, saying good-bye, or completing a special project.

            One Care Dimensions social worker describes her role as “shepherding people,” guiding them, helping them anticipate what to expect, and allowing them to make their own choices.
             In a recent instance, a hospice social worker found that everyone in a large family dearly wanted some private time with the patient to share their thoughts and say good-bye, so she set it up with the patient’s blessing. “These are the moments,” the social worker explained, “that people rarely get to experience. These are memories each family member will savor for a lifetime.” Social workers make those moments happen.

            When patients and families question the meaning of their lives, social workers reach out, hold their hands, ask questions, and listen. With no judgment or preconceived notions, they allow patients and families to tell their story. They can help patients perform a life review, even recording it to share with family. During the illness, they often suggest activities for patients and families that can become priceless memories. One family treasures a photo from a Red Sox outing as a special memory of their time with their father. The patient’s wife called the social worker support during her husband’s illness “the best part of hospice care.”

            Hospice social workers understand a patients need to express their feelings. They will sit with the patient through their pain or emotional turmoil as well as during times of joy and celebration. “We start where each person is at,” adds another social worker. “We have no agenda and do not try to force anything on anyone. We work to help them make the best of the time they have left.”

            Learn more about the role of a hospice social worker by reading, Helping Families with End-of-Life Challenges, a blog post written by Care Dimensions Social Worker Laci Gentry, LICSW at blog.caredimensions.org.


Since 1978, Care Dimensions has provided comprehensive and compassionate care for individuals and families dealing with life-threatening illnesses. As the non-profit leader in advanced illness care, we offer services in more than 90 communities in Eastern Massachusetts.