The Contributions of a Hospice Social Worker
When a friend heard I recently accepted a new role at the Sharon S. Richardson Community Hospice, she shared her hospice experience with me. “The social worker we had from your Hospice was a saint. We had some difficult family members and she handled them so well. I don’t know what we would have done without her.”
Hospice social workers are important members of the hospice team, but many people are not familiar with the services they provide. Barb Denzin has been a hospice social worker for 18 years. She smiled when I asked her to describe her job. “As social workers, we assist patients and their families with everything from encouraging families and patients to discuss their ideas, goals, and objectives in a healthy and supportive way, to obtaining financial assistance and additional community resources, completing Advanced Directives and making funeral plans, providing education, and helping to monitor symptoms. I love what I do because I get to be with people at one of the most sacred, precious times in their lives. It is an honor to be invited into their homes. I take a piece of each person with me as I go on to serve the next family. As a hospice team, we can’t fix everything for them, but we can be there to help manage their comfort with dignity, compassion, and choices. We can help families to move forward and walk the journey with them.”
Barb stressed the importance of Advanced Directives; something she recommends everyone should have in place. An Advanced Directive is a legal document that outlines an individual’s desires for end-of-life care. The person completing the document names an “agent”, which will be their healthcare decision maker should they become incapacitated. Decisions such as “Do I want to have a feeding tube?” or “Do I want to be resuscitated if I am dying?” should be discussed with your agent in advance and documented. The social worker will be sure your agent understands your wishes and is comfortable executing them. Barb encourages early discussion and decision making. “It’s not good to wait for a crisis to make these decisions. The most common problems we see, next to not having an Advanced Directive at all, are that the document is either incomplete or invalid. It’s important to review your plan at least annually and keep it up to date.” Barb reviews hers with her family every Thanksgiving. Advanced Directives are available through your doctor’s office or online at http://www.dhs.wisconsin.gov/forms/advdirectives/.
Richardson Hospice social workers offer free assistance with completing Advanced Directives. Call 920-467-1800 with your questions or to schedule an appointment.
Hospice Social Worker Barb Denzin shares her favorite poem:
Teach me to die
Hold on to my hand
I have so many questions
I don’t understand
Teach me to die
Give all you can give
If you teach me of dying,
I’ll teach you to live.
--Angelia Neumann joined the Sharon S. Richardson Community Hospice as Development & Communications Director in August. She will share information from discussions with community members, families, and Hospice Patient Care Team professionals.