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Tell me how I can help: Meet a hospice social worker

For 30 years, Laura McGuire ran a successful business in the world of real estate. Then one day, she stopped in her tracks.

“The work had been convenient, but I did not care about it,” Laura says. “I wanted to spend my time doing something that mattered.”

By then, she was in her 50s. And she was thinking about hospice work. “You’re not going back to school, are you?” asked her husband, incredulous.

Luckily for all of us, she was. (She wound up attending Rhode Island College at the same time as her son.)

Today, Laura is a social worker on HopeHealth’s hospice team, bringing patients and families comfort and hope at the end of life. In honor of Social Work Month, we’re proud to spotlight her.

> Learn how to get started with hospice care.

What happens during your visits with hospice patients and families?

Laura: A big side of social work is helping people connect with community services. Applying can be difficult. Knowing what’s available can be difficult. I just visited one family where the sister is working at night, and taking care of her brother during the day. I told her about a Medicaid program that could pay her for the hours she spends caregiving. She hadn’t been aware of it, and it could make a huge difference.

The other side of social work is emotionally supporting the patient and caregiver. Social workers are trained to look at a person as a totality — their health, their culture, their social network, everything. I’ll say: What would you like us to know about you, so we can care for you the way you want to be cared for?

When someone is seriously ill or at the end of life, it’s so important for them to have their personhood recognized — to be seen not just as a patient, but as a person. We go in and encourage them to take a breath, to tell us who they are and how we can help them.

> Checklist: What to look for in a hospice provider

Your service area happens to be around your home community. What’s that like?

The other day, I went to a house that’s very close to mine. I didn’t recognize the family’s name, but when I saw the spouse, we realized we’d met walking dogs a couple years ago. Another family, when I walked in, recognized me through my son: “Are you Eli’s mom?” “Why yes, I am.”

I always people ask if it’s OK with them that I’m from around there. They’ve always said yes — that actually, it makes them feel really good.

I love it too. I feel like I’m helping my community. You know those illustrations of animals burrowing underground in the winter? I’m getting to see what’s under the layers of my own town and the towns around mine. People show us incredible generosity in letting us into their homes and opening up to us.

> Read: By Judy’s side: A husband’s perspective on hospice

Besides social work, you’ve brought your dogs to visit patients as pet therapy. Will you share a memory?

I remember visiting one woman at the HopeHealth Hulitar Hospice Center. She had a disfigurement caused by her illness, and had stopped leaving her home because people stared at her.

When I met her, I said, Do you like dogs? She said yes. So I brought in Juno, my tiny black and white Corgi.

I put Juno on the bed, and she just laid across this woman and let her stroke her. The woman shared that it was the first nonmedical touch she’d had in years. She died the following week. I still think about her.

Woman holding a pet therapy corgi dog
Laura became a pet therapy volunteer in 2015 and became an employee in 2019. She is pictured here with her dog Arlo.

When did you know that HopeHealth was the right place for you?

I did my social work internship at the Hulitar Hospice Center. Right from the interview, I knew. I felt such a connection with the person who interviewed me. I realized, wow. I can just come here and be myself!

That was a huge thing — to feel that I’d come to a place where the person I already am is all they need me to be; that this weird little package of gifts that I have is just what’s needed. I feel so lucky that I found that.

> Read: Knocking on doors: How a silent monk became a hospice chaplain

You took a big leap to change careers and become a hospice social worker. Was it worth it?

Yes. The work can be incredibly difficult, no question. But every day, I get to see people being exactly where the universe needs them to be. It’s inspirational. It’s incredible to have that be a workday experience.

For hospice information and support, contact us at (844) 671-HOPE or Information@HopeHealthCo.org.

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