As we work diligently to ensure the safety of our patients, families, volunteers and staff during the outbreak of the coronavirus (COVID-19), we are reminded about the important role our social workers play on our integrated care teams. During Social Work Month, we take a moment to recognize them and thank them for their dedicated support of our mission.
The mission of Ohio’s Hospice is to celebrate the lives of those we have the privilege of serving by providing superior care and superior services to each patient and family. Our social workers make a difference in the lives of our patients and families, helping them address the practical and emotional issues that occur.
They bring knowledge and expertise in working with ethnic, cultural, and economic diversity. They are familiar with navigating the complexities of healthcare systems. They understand bereavement and are focused on enhancing quality of life and well-being for patients and families.
While accomplishing all these things, our social workers also provide emotional support and understanding as families face the most difficult challenge of saying goodbye.
Here are a few of their stories:
Ruth Robson, a medical social worker with Hospice of Central Ohio, recalled a memorable experience she had with a patient who was a Veteran. The patient had no family involved and considered the nursing home staff and residents, in addition to the hospice team, to be his family.
“Perhaps knowing that I had worked so diligently with the patient to help him make his funeral arrangements, a staff member of the funeral home asked if I would be willing to accept the American flag during the military honors,” Robson said. “It was such an honor to accept the flag on this patient’s behalf, and it will be the highest honor of my social work career.”
As she reflected on the experience, she explained that she and the patient went full circle. “For the longest time, he really didn’t want to talk to me,” she said. “Eventually, he told me, ‘Ruth, you got in my heart.’ And, then I was able to accept his flag.”
Hannah Schaich, a medical social worker with Ohio’s Hospice of Dayton, will always remember a particular Adopt-A-Family. Members of Ohio’s Hospice staff in the Southwest Care Region bring holiday cheer to numerous families through Adopt-A-Family. Social workers identify families who are experiencing hardship, primarily due to the terminal illness of a loved one or the loss of a job. Shopping teams are organized. They purchase clothing, household items, and toys for children and teens. Presents are wrapped and delivered to the families before the Christmas holiday.
Schaich was working with a young patient who wanted to pick out a gift for each of his family members. Days before the gifts were set to deliver, the patient passed away. She asked his mother and sister whether they still wanted the gifts. She explained to them that he handpicked each gift. “They both began to cry and thanked us for all the work we did,” Schaich said. “They expressed how thankful they were to us for making it possible for this to be a wonderful ‘last gift’ from him.”
For Schaich, the most rewarding thing about being a medical social worker is being able to help others. “People don’t come to social workers when things are going well or right in their lives,” she said. “They come to us when they are at a low point and need help. It’s truly an honor to be able to come alongside people and do what we can to help them in a time of need.”
Mark Miller, a medical social worker at Ohio’s Hospice Loving Care, recalled the role he played in reuniting a father and daughter who had been estranged for many years. Once he learned about the daughter’s desire to reunite with her father, Miller began a series of individual conversations with both the father and daughter about restoring their relationship.
“It took a little time and cajoling from me to have the father commit to one meeting just to listen, as he remained skeptical of his daughter in spite of his health prognosis,” Miller said. “When they finally did meet, the meeting accomplished above and beyond expectation, in that they both were able to forgive each other and rekindle their relationship without any strings attached.”
The father and daughter had several weeks together before he died. At the father’s funeral, the daughter told Miller that because her experience in reuniting with her father was so powerful, she planned to enroll in a social work program so that she could help others just like he helped her. For Miller, that is a moment he will remember for the rest of his life.
At Ohio’s Hospice, we’re grateful for the role our social workers play in providing superior care and superior services to each patient and family we have the privilege of serving.