A social worker’s role in hospice care

March 15, 2018

Every person has the right to decide how to live their life — even as they are approaching the end of it. It’s a freedom that social workers in hospice and palliative care organizations work hard to protect.

Generally speaking, a social worker is an advocate. They provide resources, support and education for their patients or clients in fields like health care, substance use disorders, child welfare, genetics and more. They can operate on a micro level, working one-on-one with patients, or on a macro level, working on policy proposals and strategic development.

But when it comes to hospice care, the social workers at Iowa City Hospice have a focused goal – to provide excellent end of life care to anyone.

A day in the life

Each social worker is responsible for coordinating care for a caseload of patients, as part of an interdisciplinary team. That process begins with an initial assessment where the social worker learns about each patient’s goals and wishes for their final months.

Throughout the meeting, the social worker is evaluating the patient’s emotional, spiritual, financial and legal needs. Maybe they need a caregiver. Maybe they need special medical equipment they can’t afford. Maybe they need to write a set of letters for their young children. No matter the case, the patient’s wishes are the guiding tenant for determining the type of care hospice will provide.

The social worker then coordinates with their interdisciplinary team, which includes a chaplain, nurse, aide, physician, and music therapist. They figure out how to connect with or provide the resources the patient needs. As long as a person is alert and able to make decisions, the team honors those decisions. It’s the social workers job to remind the team to focus on what the patient wants, versus what the team thinks is right.

Social workers on staff

Iowa City Hospice has a staff of 65 people including clinical nurses, aides, physicians, social workers, office staff and management. Of those 65, six are social workers, all of whom have a masters in social work. After they have been on staff for three years, Iowa City Hospice requires their social workers to apply for their advanced certification in hospice and palliative care, offered by the National Association of Social Workers and the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization. Iowa City Hospice encourages all of their employees to pursue advanced degrees and certifications, as it allows them to better serve their patients.

Not all social workers consider themselves counselors, but hospice social workers certainly do. It’s their job to be a listening ear for patients and their families. Hospice care is about more than a patient’s physical needs. It’s about taking the difficult reality of a life ending and turning it into one final opportunity for respect and understanding.