CHP social workers advocate for each patient and provide emotional and practical support. They help patients and families with accepting a diagnosis, processing their grief, and meeting any life goals if possible. Social workers may also assist families in identifying available services and resources for additional support.
We asked our primary medical social workers – Tacey Blakeley, Laurie Hockenberry, and Jen JoHantgen – about their roles in this important, but often overlooked discipline.
How is your role with home care different from hospice?
Tacey: With hospice, we’re helping families go through one of the most difficult times in their lives – losing a loved one. With home health, we are connecting individuals with community resources like Medicaid, Meals-on-Wheels, and Passport services to name a few.
Laurie: The role of social work in home health focuses more on the practical side of things, like long-term planning and connecting to resources. I enjoy working with home health patients and their families because it’s nice to be able to help “fix” a problem that makes life a little easier for them. I think our phone calls and visits can reassure them that there is someone they can call to help them with any issues that come up.
Jen: With home health, we assess needs and link the patient to those resources, we are available for emotional needs as well, but often only see home health patients once or twice where hospice is ongoing. Hospice care is more in-depth, we build rapport with these patients and their family members and are with them throughout their time in hospice until the end of life.
How has working with CHP patients/families impacted you personally?
Jen: Hospice care is more than a job to me, it’s a calling. I very much enjoy being with patients and family members and helping them navigate end-of-life care, providing emotional support, and just being present with them while they complete a “life review,” an important step at the end of life. Hospice care is very fulfilling and it’s an honor that people let you into their homes and hearts at such a difficult time.
Laurie: I find that hospice care fills me up more than it takes. I feel honored to be able to meet, and hopefully help, some amazing people at the most difficult time in their lives. Many of our patients and families are an inspiration for how to handle life at its worst moments with dignity and grace. I go home almost every day feeling grateful to hear so many wonderful life stories. It’s taught me that the only thing that really matters, in the end, is the people in your life.
Tacey: In hospice, I enjoy listening to the patient’s life stories. They help you laugh through the tears sometimes.
How do you take care of yourself in a role like this?
Jen: I take care of myself through staying close to the Lord, praying before visits, or difficult conversations. I remind myself that my work here on earth is for Him and Him alone.
Laurie: Self-care is a priority and includes coffee, spending time with my favorite people and animals, and being able to vent about the most difficult cases to my co-workers. I try really hard to turn off work when I get home so that I can recharge for the next day.
Tacey: I spend time with my family and friends. My faith is very important as well. I walk when the weather is good.
What makes a social worker an important part of the hospice team?
Laurie: A social worker is the key part of the hospice team because we can add a depth of understanding to how and why patients and their families may react the way they do and make the decisions they make. Hospice nurses are the most amazing and compassionate people on the planet, but the medical model is very different from the social work model way of looking at things. We need both points of view to provide well-rounded care to the families we serve.
Tacey: A social worker is able to take time to just let the individual vent, cry, and talk. We aren’t there to “poke and prod” them. We’re here to listen.
What advice would you give a young professional considering social work?
Laurie: “It’s not about you.” Social workers need to have the ability to “leave themselves at the door” when entering someone’s home. There are many different types of social work that deal with many different populations, but in hospice, you see them all. You can be inspired by the most heartwarming family story and devastated by the most heartbreaking on the same day.
Jen: Be open to working with diverse populations, different ages, and often playing different roles. Social workers have to think differently than most other professionals and often outside the box, to find a solution. The best part is the impact you make on people. Sometimes that impact is lifelong.
Tacey: You have to have a sense of wanting to help others and an empathetic heart.