David Eichwald – On Being a Social Worker for Hospice

We social workers are often misunderstood. I’ve worked for CPS, several group care facilities in my early years. Most recently I worked at Farm Workers Medical and Mental Health in their Specialized Foster Care Program.
I did my second practicum at YVMHs Home Care and Hospice in 1999 and 2000. I was hired as a hospice MSW in February of 2000. I was hired as CITM MSW a few months ago.

The social worker is an integral member of the CITM hospice team. As trained professionals, our first responsibility is to evaluate the needs of the patient and their family upon entering the hospice program. We look at several levels of family dynamics; the individual, the family, the family in the community and sometimes the family and how they relate to the current political scene.

We represent the individual/family’s wishes at every hospice team meeting. We meet weekly with our medical director, Dr Waber, pharmacist, RNs, chaplains and fellow social workers. All social workers at YVMH’s hospice program have their MSW.

Social Workers complete the admission paperwork. During this time we are assessing patients and their families. Usually we determine a starting point at this time. If one is able to see that each patient and family member is at some point in the process of acceptance, then we are better able to provide the support that they need.

It is not our job as hospice social workers to impose any particular agenda.

We are there to support the patient and their family’s wishes, and address their concerns be it financial, emotional or ethical. This is often difficult to do since we work within a medical model that tends to present as being a sage/serf relationship.

One of the many roles of the social worker is to assist other hospice team members to understand what is going on with our patients and their families.

It is a goal of ours to be aware of any social, cultural or religious beliefs that might impact the process of acceptance

We recognize that family members bring their own understanding to this process. In a culture that tends to deny death we are able guide patients and their families down a path that we are very familiar with. We are always open to learning and experiencing new ways at looking at death.

Hospice Social Workers strive to make the environment of our patients and their family as safe as possible. The process of decline towards death can be a very emotionally vulnerable time. We have the privilege and honor of being accepted into our families’ reality.

Feelings of love and feelings related to death often feel similar. When it comes to death our hearts ache with love and pain at the same time.

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