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What Does the Hospice Social Worker Do?


Updated June 10, 2014

Question: What Does the Hospice Social Worker Do?
The social worker is an essential part of the hospice team but many people wonder, what does the hospice social worker do?

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.

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