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Role of Hospice Social Worker is to Listen, Engage, Fulfill

For any social worker involved in hospice care, it’s all about meeting the needs of patients and their families. And that means listening intently and responding to clues that are both subtle and obvious.

“Just recently, I was sharing with a patient that they could tell me anything, because I’m there to listen and to serve, no matter the physical or emotional need,” says Britt Fischer, a medical social worker for Emmanuel Hospice. “I’m there to keep my ears and eyes open for anything, and if it’s a spiritual need or something else outside my realm, I’ll find the right person to address it.”

Fischer joined Emmanuel this year and brings nearly a decade of experience to the job tied to work she performed on behalf of adults with intellectual and developmental challenges.

“In hospice especially,” says Fischer, “it’s making sure folks have as many resources as possible as they make decisions about their final months and days. They may need assistance with exploring durable power of attorney and other legal questions. Maybe they’re at odds with a family member over final arrangements or have a strained relationship with a loved one. It could be any one of a number of concerns. It’s our job to help them and their family members sift through the options.”

According to Fischer, it’s important to honor the decisions a patient makes as they embark on what can be a difficult journey: “Sometimes it’s helping them deal with caregivers and friends and family. A veteran may have other concerns. And then there are people who don’t have a lot of support or others to lean on, and we become the last line of support.”

Sometimes, says Fischer, it’s a hard line to walk when the patient insists on one thing and a family member pushes for another. “We can get into some tough conversations, but the bottom line is to listen to all sides and respect those differing opinions in making those decisions for the patient.”

Fischer emphasizes that when a team approach is utilized – which is how Emmanuel provides its hospice care – it presents opportunities to cover all the bases: physical, emotional, spiritual and more. Social workers are especially attuned to anticipating the need for grief support, facilitating life reviews and educating patients and their loved ones about hospice care in a compassionate way.

It’s also important to attend to the details. “Maybe someone wants something as simple as an electric shaver. Or one more trip to the beach. To a social worker, job satisfaction is making those kinds of things happen for our people.”

The key, she says, is to establish and maintain open lines of communication with patients:  “That’s the best way to ensure the patient is served in every way.”

By definition, says Fischer, social work “is all about constantly learning while on the job, and it’s always changing, because you’re working with people as the center of your universe. You’re never going to be 100% prepared for every question or concern, but you learn how to adapt, how to try to make wishes come true.”


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