What Do Hospice Social Workers Do?

Hospice Social Workers Are Trained Experts

Hospice patient with nurse
A hospice professional cares for a patient in his home. Photo © Hola Images/Photolibrary/Getty Images

The hospice social worker is a certified medical social worker (MSW) who has had specialized training in end-of-life care. In hospice care, the social worker is an important member of the team. Their insights, support, and recommendations can vastly improve the experience of the patient and his or her family.

What is the Role of a Social Worker?

Medical social workers are experts in evaluating the well-being and emotional status of individuals in the healthcare system and their families.

They are also trained in a variety of techniques to help manage emotional distress, provide resources, and support the wishes of the patient. Some social workers have training in stress management techniques, and can help patients and family members express and cope with their emotions.

How Do Social Workers Help with End-of-Life Care?

Social workers have in-depth knowledge and expertise in working with ethnic, cultural, and economic diversity; family and support networks; multidimensional symptom management; bereavement; interdisciplinary practice; interventions across the life cycle; and navigating health care systems. They are concerned with enhancing the quality of life and promoting well-being for patients, families, and caregivers.

It is the social worker's job to get to know the patient in the context of their personal and family history. It's important to know, for example, whether the family is under unusual stress, how they view the dying process, and whether they have particular or unusual concerns about death.

It may be up to the social worker to help family member come to terms with their loved one's decisions about their own death and to cope with the aftermath if there are emotional reactions or personal differences about hospice-related decisions.

How Do Hospice Social Workers Spend Their Days?

In the hospice and palliative care setting, the social worker may help with any number of the following:

  • Assisting patients and families in making health care decisions based on personal goals of care
  • Ensuring the patient's end-of-life wishes are documented and known by assisting with advance directives, do not resuscitate (DNR) orders, or POLST forms
  • Contacting local agencies and/or community resources that may be of help to patients and families (i.e. hospice agencies, Meals-on-Wheels, Life Alert, etc.).
  • Assistance with insurance, Medicare, and Medicaid paperwork.
  • Assistance with funeral planning.
  • Identifying emotional and spiritual needs of the patient and their loved ones and finding appropriate support as needed.
  • Assistance with bridging family gaps to bring loved ones together whenever possible (for example, help obtain temporary Visa's for out-of-country family members).
  • Assisting survivors with necessary arrangements and paperwork after death occurs.
  • Assisting survivors in obtaining appropriate grief counseling.
  • Identifying other needs of the patient and their support circle and assisting as needed.

How Do Hospice Social Workers Work with Families?

Typically, one social worker is assigned to a patient to provide continuity of care. The social worker will build a relationship with the hospice patient and their support system and assist in areas of need they identify together.

Most hospice agencies have a social worker on-call for urgent patient and family needs after-hours as well.

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