The hospice social worker is a certified medical social worker (MSW) who has had specialized training in end-of-life care. Social workers have in-depth knowledge and expertise in working with ethnic, cultural, and economic diversity; family and support networks; multidimensional symptom management; bereavement; interdisciplinary practice; interventions across the life cycle; and navigating health care systems. They are concerned with enhancing quality of life and promoting well-being for patients, families, and caregivers.
In the hospice and palliative care setting, the social worker may help with any number of the following:
- Assisting patients and families in making health care decisions based on personal goals of care.
- Ensuring the patient's end-of-life wishes are documented and known by assisting with advance directives, do not resuscitate (DNR) orders, or POLST forms.
- Contacting local agencies and/or community resources that may be of help to patients and families (i.e. hospice agencies, Meals-on-Wheels, Life Alert, etc.).
- Assistance with insurance, Medicare, and Medicaid paperwork.
- Assistance with funeral planning.
- Identifying emotional and spiritual needs of the patient and their loved ones and finding appropriate support as needed.
- Assistance with bridging family gaps to bring loved ones together whenever possible (for example, help obtaining temporary Visa's for out-of-country family members).
- Assisting survivors with necessary arrangements and paperwork after death occurs.
- Assisting survivors in obtaining appropriate grief counseling.
- Identifying other needs of the patient and their support circle and assisting as needed.
Typically, one social worker is assigned to a patient to provide continuity of care. The social worker will build a relationship with the hospice patient and their support system and assist in areas of need they identify together. Most hospice agencies have a social worker on-call for urgent patient and family needs after-hours as well.