As patients and families navigate the many challenges of a serious illness, social workers are there to guide them. They’re a safe space, a source of knowledge, and a connector of resources.
In honor of Social Work Month, we share an interview with Steve Muchiri, a social worker on HopeHealth’s hospice team.
As a hospice social worker, you have clinical skills to help patients and families with emotional support. Can you share an example?
I recently met with a patient who reported his pain as an eight or a nine out of 10, which is severe. He did not want me to call the nurse to make changes to his medications. He was focused on how much he was burdening his family with his physical care needs. His wife was overwhelmed and anxious.
I engaged the couple in a therapeutic process known as a life review. Together, we helped the patient step away from seeing himself only as a burden. We helped him see his accomplishments in his life and with his family. We reminded him of who he has been and still is, and reinforced the value he still brings to his family.
He and his wife visibly became relaxed and enjoyed the experience. After, he reported his pain had decreased to a four or five — and asked when I was coming for the next visit.
What are other ways you can help — for instance, with community resources and financial needs?
I had one family where the spouse really needed caregiver support. Her husband, a veteran, was eligible for a certified nursing assistant through Veterans Affairs (VA) but wasn’t enrolled. I called the VA and found out what they needed to do to access those benefits.
Another family was struggling with an insurance issue. These policies are written by lawyers, and for the family to decipher it was a total nightmare. I connected them with an agency that, for free, is helping them understand how their policy works.
For another family, I prepared Family and Medical Leave Act paperwork so a daughter could have time with her loved one without worrying about losing her job. I also talked to her about how to connect with a counselor using her health insurance.
These are just a few examples. Social workers can help with so many different issues. And we have many resources we can refer people to.
Every patient and family is different. How do you figure out how to help?
It is a privilege that patients allow us into their homes, especially at such a critical time in their lives. I know it is a sacred space. I tell them: I’m here to listen to you, and to support you in whatever way you need. I always thank them for the privilege to participate in their care.
Together, we get to the bottom of what is most important to them. What problems are they facing, what is breaking the camel’s back? What are their goals, and how can we help them meet these challenges and goals? We also look at each person and help them identify their strengths.
It’s about really “getting” them — listening to them and meeting them where they are. We provide a safe space for every person to express who they are and what they need.
How do hospice social workers fit into a larger care team?
The team aspect is critical. When I go out in the field, I’m not just a lone ranger. I have a big backing. Our team has social workers, chaplains, a doctor, nurses and hospices aides, volunteers, and bereavement coordinators.
We each have our own role and work together to meet the patient’s and family’s needs. I can’t emphasize enough how important this is. For example, yesterday I got an email from one of our hospice aides. A family had mentioned an insurance issue to her. She wrote to me, and I called to help them figure it out.
That’s how our team works together.
What’s something you want every patient and family to know?
If you’re receiving hospice services from Hopehealth, you have 24/7 support. Whether you have a question or need someone to listen, just call the 24/7 phone number. I’ll be there, or someone else on the team will be there.
We want to empower you. We want to give you a voice. We are a resource that you can call.
You are not going it alone.