UCLAH Social Workers Provide Comfort Care to Families
UCLAH social workers provide crucial comfort care to families. They play a necessary role in bereavement care, helping families after the patient’s death.
Comfort Care with UCLAH Social Workers
Caring for a terminally ill loved one in a home hospice is stressful, exhausting, and emotionally devastating. It might be more manageable if the family could dedicate themselves solely to the dying person; then they could feel at least that they’re doing the most they possibly could. But reality intrudes on the dedicated comfort care the family provides. No matter how sharp their grief is, the family still must pay bills, sort out insurance info or Medicare, arrange the patient’s affairs, organize a memorial service, and so much more besides. How can a family wracked with grief cope with all that?
Thankfully, Unique Care Los Angeles Hospice employs dedicated social workers. They are always ready to assist patients and families with a wide variety of problems. This reduces strain on family members, allowing them to dedicate their energy to what matters most: the comfort of the patient.
Duties of Hospice Social Workers
Our social workers perform a wide variety of tasks, doing just about anything to support the family and patient during a painful and difficult time. They must first of all be great listeners and problem solvers, as the needs of each family will demand different solutions if they are to provide excellent care.
They have many duties beyond what is listed here:
- Helping file Medicare, Medicaid, and private insurance paperwork.
- Assist the patient in preparing advance directives and wills.
- Assess the patient’s emotional and spiritual health.
- Provide counseling to grieving families and connect them with other means of emotional support.
- Educate families about the end-of-life process and what hospice means.
- Planning funerals and memorial services.
- Connect the family with other resources that might help them.
Helping the Patient
Our social workers do not interact with patients as much as our nurses or home health aides, but they are experts in finding ways to help, even if the patient is putting up a tough front or being uncommunicative.
- Is the patient feeling neglected by the family or by the other caregivers?
- Is the patient depressed and could benefit from counseling?
- Has the patient developed a grudge against a particular caregiver? Alternately, is the patient fond of a caregiver and wishes he or she would visit more?
All of us at UCLAH want to provide top-quality comfort care, but even then, sometimes differences in personalities arise and cause friction. By considering questions like these, our social workers can advise the other members of the hospice team, letting us know how we can improve the care we offer.
The Hospice Educator
In addition to ensuring that the patient is receiving the best possible medical care, our social workers can help families in many non-medical ways. They are sensitive educators, answering difficult questions with tact and compassion:
- What is the goal of end-of-life care?
- What is the process of dying? What can families expect as their loved one’s condition worsens?
- What decisions might families have to make in a crisis?
These questions can cause conflict. Family members might have divergent attitudes towards sickness and death, and they might have contrary ideas about what hospice care should entail and how aggressively the patient’s symptoms should be treated. Our social workers mediate such conflicts and remind everyone that the comfort of the patient is the top priority. Every family member must be on the same page regarding end-of-life goals. Having everyone agree on such goals is important for it’s time to make difficult decisions regarding the patient’s care.
The Paperwork Specialist
End-of-life care unfortunately involves a lot of paperwork. For a family exhausted from caring for a terminally ill person, the prospect of sorting out papers can be too much to bear. Our social workers, thankfully, are familiar with the intricacies of medical and legal paperwork and can help ease the burden for struggling families.
- Filing Medicare, Medicaid, and private insurance paperwork.
- Establishing if the patient has a will; if not, helping her write one.
- Finding and applying for community resources that might help the family.
- For veteran patients, establishing if there are any veteran benefits that might help the family. Obtaining records of service, replacing lost medals, or enrolling the patient’s name in a Veterans Day ceremony are all possible if the patient so wishes.
- Contacting newspapers and community organizations to publish obituaries and announce the patient’s death.
One of the most important legal documents for a terminally ill person to have is the advance directive, also known as a living will. This document establishes what the patient wants to be done when she can no longer make medical decisions for herself. One useful document that is used often in hospice is called Five Wishes. Created by the non-profit organization Aging with Dignity, Five Wishes is a legally valid advance directive that establishes the desires of a dying person. The five wishes, in order, establish
- Who is allowed to make decisions for the patient when she can’t anymore.
- The kind of treatment the patient wants or does not want.
- How comfortable the patient wants to be.
- How the patient wants people to treat her.
- What the patient wants her loved ones to know.
Five Wishes is written in everyday language, so it is easy for patients and families to understand, and it legally qualifies as an advance directive in 42 states, including California.
We grieve with the family when the time has come for the patient to make her last journey. But there is no time off for bereavement for hospice workers, and so most of us must move on to other patients after expressing our condolences to the bereaved family.
However, the UCLAH social worker will still be there to help. He will help organize funerals and memorial services, will contact newspapers to issue obituaries, and get in touch with organizations important to the deceased to announce her passing.
They are trained counselors and will help family members manage their grief. Often, they will lead support groups to provide individuals and families an extended means of bereavement care. If the family is feeling spiritually deprived after the death of their loved one, our social workers will coordinate with our hospice chaplains to provide spiritual care as well. It is a small help next to the magnitude of a loss, but many family members have expressed their thanks for the bereavement counseling available to them.