There are very specific instances throughout life that could warrant interaction with a social worker. Adoption, for example, would put you in close contact with a social worker as a means of qualifying your home in the eyes of an adoption agency. For the most part, however, the everyday family won’t generally come face to face with a social worker.
If you have a family member entering palliative care, meeting a hospice social worker will likely be a brand new experience for you and, if you’re not quite sure of what a social worker’s duties are, you might be confused as to why you’re meeting this person. The fact of the matter is that the focuses of social work vary greatly, but the idea of a social worker all comes back to the title of the career: working to improve the welfare of families.
In the hospice environment, a social worker is tasked with ensuring that the loved ones of a terminal patient are given the attention they need as survivors. This could mean anything from counseling to help them accept the finality of the situation, to helping them understand resources and options for financial support that may be available to them. Some of the main duties of a hospice social worker include:
- Educating family members and caregivers on coping mechanisms, hospice and palliative care philosophies and symptom management strategies.
- Linking support groups and resources with surviving family members who might be having a hard time understanding or accepting the loss of a loved one.
- Intervening and quelling family crises and helping to reestablish foundational support within the family unit.
- Advocating on behalf of the patient or the family if legal rights or critical situations come into play.
- Mediating any conflicts that may occur between family members, service staff and patients.
There are even more roles a hospice social worker undertakes, but the emphasis remains on facilitating comfort in the hospice environment. It’s easy to think of a hospice social worker as the glue that holds everything together in the eyes of a family; a resource for comfort, knowledge, understanding and information.
An often overlooked facet of a hospice social worker’s job is also to help coordinate care and identify different methods of care that may be of the right approach for someone receiving palliative care. This could mean anything from helping to plan out extended care schedules amongst a range of caregivers, to helping patients and their family members understand and sign important medical paperwork, such as an advanced directive.
Many people often confuse a hospice social worker’s duties with that of a registered nurse (RN) or even a certified nurses assistant (CNA), but the distinction comes in how care is handled—RNs and CNAs actually deliver physical care, whereas the duty of a social worker is to act in a more clerical manner. Your social worker may help you to understand medications your loved one is taking; a credentialed care professional is going to administer that medication, and so on.
A hospice social worker is an integral part of any palliative care team and someone that is sure to be a valuable resource for patients, families and even the caregivers themselves. Knowing you can turn to them for help in a situation that can be unnerving, frightening or stressful means being able to unburden yourself and approach the situation with clarity and confidence.