What is a Hospice Social Worker?

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A hospice social worker is responsible for advocating for their patients’ end-of-life needs and helping patients and their family members identify available local services and resources. Their role also includes navigating end-of-life planning which encompasses addressing emotional needs, family dynamics, and physical symptoms. It is important to understand the difference between hospice and palliative care roles for the social worker.

Even though there are related roles, there are distinct differences in responsibilities. Hospice social workers care for patients who are suffering from acute terminal illnesses where the patient has fewer than six months to live. Palliative care social workers work with patients who need support and management with the symptoms of their diseases.

Role of Hospice Social Workers

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You may be wondering what hospice social workers can do for you or your loved one. They take on many roles in the coordination of care for patients, including:

  1. Conducting psychosocial assessments to determine the psychological, emotional, spiritual and social needs of patients and their families. After the assessment is complete the following information is available for the hospice social worker and other medical staff members to address: past and present medical conditions, previous and current treatment plans, mental and emotional health needs, social, cultural, financial and family needs.
  2. Care Coordination. This is one of the most important roles of the hospice social worker. It involves coordinating the care of the patient with the team of medical and human service professionals.
  3. Counseling and Psychotherapy. Hospice social workers provide emotional support, counseling, and psychotherapy to patients and their families who experience psychological and emotional difficulties related to their illnesses. Social workers may use various modalities of treatment including mindfulness, cognitive based therapy, dialectical behavioral therapy, supportive psychotherapy, art and music therapy, and storytelling therapy.
  4. Crisis Intervention. Social workers in hospice need to be prepared to provide emergency psychological support when their clients and/or loved ones experience mental, emotional, social or family crises. These crises may involve unexpected advancement of the medical condition, family conflicts, physical violence, neglect, or verbal abuse that result in trauma or suicidal desires of the client.
  5. Patient Education and Resource Navigation. Hospice social workers help patients and their families understand their treatment plans and the various hospice services available. Education throughout the disease process is an important role of the hospice social worker. Families may need help navigating Medicare or Medicaid and/or finding certain benefits and related forms. The hospice social worker will help their client and family members connect with relevant support groups, other counseling services and religious communities that provide support, including respite care.
  6. Following the loss of the loved one, hospice social workers will provide needed support including bereavement and counseling services.

A hospice social worker can be an invaluable ally for you and your loved one. For more information about hospice services or to make a referral, please call 215.371.1393.