A Social Workers Role at End-of-Life
by Laurie Bassler, MSW, Homeland Hospice
I have an uncle who asked me “why anyone would want a social worker present when their loved one is dying?”
Typically, a social worker’s job is to assist with concrete needs, like helping to ensure a loved one is in a safe environment when they are living alone or if their caregiver can no longer support them at home.
Social workers also often help facilitate conversations with family members, especially when there is a disagreement about how to move forward with care.
Social workers assist with setting up private-duty caregivers. They help arrange service support waiver programs, which provide funding for services to help individuals who need care to live in their home. (The term “waiver” relates to the federal government “waiving” Medical Assistance/Medicaid rules for institutional care in order for states to use the same funds to provide services for people closer to home in their own communities.) They also help coordinate VA Aid and Attendance benefits through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, which includes free caregiving assistance in the home each month and financial assistance in addition to VA pension payments for qualified Veterans and survivors.
Additionally, social workers assist people with accessing Meals on Wheels, arranging powers of attorney, obtaining airfare reimbursement, or getting a grandson or granddaughter home from military service before a loved one passes. There are so many ways families can benefit from accepting a social worker as part of an end-of-life care team.
Homeland Hospice social workers even help families with financial concerns, such as eviction proceedings or making a referral to an elder care attorney if needed.
Some families simply appreciate having an impartial sounding board – someone who is not a member of the family to provide objective perspective. Families often need to share their story and their fears without judgment, and social workers are just the right people to share them with. Social workers provide a needed calming presence.
Social workers also help with actual care giving or managing challenging behaviors, and educate families on how best to understand that what they may be experiencing is normal.
Homeland Hospice social workers recognize the signs of end-of-life, which can be deeply emotional and difficult for families to observe. It is helpful for family members to have a social worker by their side who knows these signs and can explain them.
Social workers are a valuable part of an end-of-life care team and can provide support well beyond typical or concrete needs. They are a source of calm and peace during the dying process. With an understanding of the unique concerns and fears of families, they provide reassurance that helps them know that they will get through this – that they are giving their loved one a gift with their very presence.
Laurie Bassler, MSW has been a social worker for 41 years, primarily in intensive care units, emergency rooms and in oncology care settings. Laurie joined the Homeland Hospice team in 2015 and says it was the best work-related decision she ever made.