A hospice social worker wears many hats. They have a role of far-reaching impact, drastically improving the lives of patients and family members. They also have a role of such diverse responsibility and detail, that many may be unclear as to what exactly a hospice social worker does.
Here are just some parts of the role of a hospice social worker:
- Advocating for Patients
- First and foremost, hospice social workers are patient advocates. Everyone on the hospice team is working hard to do what is best for the patient, but for social workers, being the patient advocate is their No. 1 priority. They do everything from finding practical solutions, providing emotional support, educating family caregivers and supporting the entire hospice team.
- Solving Complex Problems
- Social workers are master problem solvers. They help patients and families access resources, navigate transitions and develop strategies to help patients reach their goals. This can mean helping families sort out bills or get food. They connect families with the community resources they might need such as Meals on Wheels or the Council on Aging. Does the family need help filling out paperwork or need to get a healthcare power of attorney form completed? Social workers are always there to help.
- Supporting Caregivers
- When someone becomes seriously ill, family members such as spouses, children or siblings sometimes take on caregiving responsibilities. Hospice social workers assess and support these family caregivers. They know when a caregiver might struggle with a certain task and need more education or aid. They can help caregivers avoid burnout and provide a safe space to talk about their frustrations.
- Social workers act as compassionate sounding boards for patients and families, providing essential emotional and practical support for hospice patients. Social workers can help normalize the guilt, fear, anxiety or sadness that families and patients experience through the end-of-life process. They will talk with patients and in some cases do a “life review” that helps patients cope with complicated emotions.
- Managing Teams
- Social workers often provide the context and vital background information that can help the hospice team caring for the patient. For example, if a nurse is concerned that a family caregiver isn’t handling all the responsibilities, a social worker can fill in the background details about the family dynamic, or that the caregiver is going through a hard time and needs more help if they are going to continue caregiving.
Social workers are critical to developing effective and appropriate end-of-life care for patients and families. They provide context, create supportive teams and guide families through difficult times.