How hospice social workers help patients and their loved ones

Caring for communities

“At the end of life, a lot of times what people really want is to be remembered,” Enhabit Home Health & Hospice social worker Kennedi said.

Kennedi practices her job each day with this mindset, setting out to spend time with her patients and connect them to appropriate resources. And while ensuring her hospice patients are receiving the support they need is just one part of her job, it is the part that can often make the biggest impact.

“While it is my job to check on people and see if they need anything, a lot of times, people just need someone to care about them a little more. And it means the world to them that I just think about them, remember them and stop by to see them. That makes such a huge difference in their day and their life. And that makes me feel like my job really does matter.”

Hospice social worker Kennedi

Kennedi L., LMSW

What does a hospice social worker do?

The question of what a hospice social worker does can be summed up by another question, according to Kennedi: What doesn’t a hospice social worker do?

“We do everything that is needed, and that is so hard to put into one sentence or one job description because there are so many things that make a person whole outside of just the medical side,” she said.

Even though hospice social workers contribute to many different areas of a patient’s wellbeing, generally, they help break financial, emotional and social barriers for hospice patients so they can remain in the comfort of home during their end-of-life journey.

To read more about what a hospice social worker does, click here.

How do hospice social workers help patients and their loved ones?

While they provide professional, comprehensive and family-oriented services to individuals in the home setting, the little things hospice social workers do to help patients and their loved ones add up in big ways.

“It’s all these little tiny things that other people don’t notice that make up social work,” she said. “All the things that slip through the cracks in the medical system or you might not think about as being important, we catch all those little things in social work and it makes an overall huge difference.”

And though hospice social workers do help patients navigate this time in their life, Kennedi spends a lot of her time helping caregivers and families adjust to the end-of-life journey.

“Caregivers begin the hospice journey and feel lost and out of control,” she said. “I think sometimes hospice can sound very intimidating and it can evoke a lot of negative feelings because of what people think hospice is, especially if someone has never had a death in the family or been up close to the dying process.”

Kennedi helps caregivers and family members understand their emotions and learn how to cope with the end-of-life journey, introducing them to strategies and resources along the way. Read below for a few real-life examples of how hospice social workers help patients and their loved ones.

Hospice social workers help families adjust along the end-of-life journey

Kennedi explained that although a family might have a loved one who is nearing the end of life, they still have other responsibilities.

“I have one group of siblings who is struggling to balance their lives right now,” she said. “They have this ongoing emergency with their mom dying, but they also still have kids and bills and all these things. It’s like everyone else doesn’t worry that their mom is dying – only their family does. They’re feeling lost in a way that the rest of the world doesn’t even care about.”

A hospice social worker has the opportunity to help loved ones through this lost feeling. With this particular family, Kennedi was able to take big feelings and break them down into categories. From there, she found them tangible resources and caregiver support that related to their specific needs.

She helped the siblings learn how to work amongst each other, balancing their personal day-to-days with getting their mom the care she deserves.

“In situations like this, life is still going on,” Kennedi said. “Everything is up in the air and there are so many emergencies and so many responsibilities. And that’s where I come in to help with the overwhelm and make things real and connect them with the support they need.”

Navigating family dynamics during the hospice journey

The end-of-life journey can evoke a lot of different emotions for each member of the family, especially if there was previous dysfunction. Hospice social workers can help families better understand what each person is going through and improve their communication.

One family Kennedi helped was experiencing a lot of misunderstanding due to some family members’ mental health conditions. They were struggling to coexist, especially on top of the stress of their loved one’s terminal illness.

Through an introduction to resources and education about mental health, Kennedi felt she was able to make a real impact in this family.

“Really, I just taught them that in dealing with mental illness, you have to understand the psychology behind why people are reacting in certain ways,” she said. “I was able to leave them with resources but also an understanding of each other and what they need. I think me being involved and helping them communicate better did make a huge difference in their lives.”

Hospice social workers partake in patient hobbies

And while hospice social workers do spend a lot of time connecting loved ones with resources and emotional support, they also take time to build their own connection with hospice patients themselves.

Kennedi has one patient in particular that makes her smile every time she thinks about her. This patient is a puzzle expert who is always working on a new puzzle or finding a new puzzle competition to compete in.

And while Kennedi may not share the same fervor for puzzle making, she feels the excitement from her patient when she wants to show her a new puzzle she’s been working on – and Kennedi joins in on the fun.

“I think the thing about social work that’s so amazing is that it’s not just paperwork and crisis intervention,” she said. “A lot of times it’s that social side. Patients often don’t get out of the house and they only have interaction that comes to them. So, taking the time to make them feel not just like a patient but like a person is really really important.”

To learn more about hospice career opportunities at Enhabit, search our open career opportunities near you or sign up for job alerts by texting “CARE” to 98199.

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