To The Editor:
Oswego County has two social workers providing service to all of Oswego County Health Department programs, including Hospice.
As one of these social workers, I often hear, “I don’t know how you do what you do working with people like that.”
People like that meaning clients who know they are dying as well as their families.
What so many do not realize is that Hospice is not about dying.
Hospice is about living every day, one day at a time, and making that day the best it can be.
To be appropriate for Hospice, a person must have a physician willing to sign a certificate of terminality with a life expectancy of six months or less.
We have seen many people live well beyond that six months window, and some rare few have “graduated” out of the program because they no longer meet the criteria.
Most of our admissions, however, do progress as expected and eventually accomplish our mutual goal of experiencing a peaceful, comfortable death at home, surrounded by the people they love. Knowing that we have helped them toward that goal is the reason we are able to “do what we do, working with people like that.”
At the time of admission, it is the social worker’s responsibility to gather information and to explain various consent forms that the patient or primary caregiver is being asked to sign.
During this process, the social workers try to determine the specific needs unique to the patient and family, and then we assist the patient and family in having these needs met.
The families referred to Hospice have just received life altering information that their loved one is not expected to live beyond the next six months.
We try to help the patient and their families understand that Hospice has no bearing on when a life ends, but we work in every way to enrich that life until it does.
The social workers are available to assist the patient and their families with putting affairs in order and making final arrangements, many times acting as a liaison between them and other services providers.
Social workers can also make a referral to outside agencies.
We ask during admission about any unfilled goals, and we try to help patients achieve these goals, even the unrealistic ones.
Once a patient answered that his unfilled goal was to be a millionaire.
The next day his assigned social worker presented him with a lottery ticket and said, “Hey you never know.”
The patient didn’t win a million bucks, but the social worker was able to bring a smile to his face.
I think that in itself is worth a million dollars.
It is not only an honor but a privilege to assist patients and their families during this most precious time.
That is why social workers do what we do, and work with people “like that.”
Betty Dunsmoor, LMSW, ACSW, PhD
Oswego County Hospice Social Worker