As part of Social Work Month during the month of March, Ohio’s Hospice and its affiliates are recognizing and thanking our social workers for their commitment to our mission of providing superior care and superior services to the patients and families we are privileged to serve each and every day.
Our social workers provide support to patients and families as they face life-limiting illnesses and injuries. As an integral part of the care team, our social workers:
- Bring knowledge and expertise in working with ethnic, cultural and economic diversity.
- Navigate the complexities of healthcare systems.
- Are focused on enhancing quality of life and well-being for patients and families.
- Understand grief support.
They recently reflected on their role as part of the care team throughout the state of Ohio, sharing their thoughts and experiences. We invite you to learn more about some of our social workers across the state below.
Victoria Miller, medical social worker at Ohio’s Hospice of Central Ohio, felt drawn to helping those who are vulnerable and need an advocate after returning from a mission trip to Costa Rica her senior year of high school. During this trip, she saw firsthand the hurt and need that the world has.
“It has been humbling and such an honor to be part of the journeys of my patients and their families,” she said. “Death is hard for families and loved ones to go through. So, just playing a small part in helping ease them through the journey has made being a medical social worker rewarding.”
She explained that it takes a lot of empathy, patience and kindness to be a social worker. “There are a lot of empathetic, patient, and kind people in this world, but we still need people to join us in advocating and caring for each other,” she said. “Start with a heart ready to advocate and love people, and you will find your career to be very rewarding as a social worker.”
Sarah Ingram, bereavement counseling professional at Ohio’s Hospice of Butler & Warren Counties, worked at United Way of Bluegrass as a development coordinator. While working with all the agencies that organization served, she saw a need for social workers. “I wanted to make this world a little better when I leave it,” she said.
She works at one of our Pathways of HopeSM Grief Counseling Centers, providing grief support after a family’s loved one has passed. “The first time we see the families, they are hurting and unsure if they actually can walk this grief path,” she said. “But then we walk along beside them and watch them heal. Watching someone heal on the inside is very rewarding and beautiful.”
For those considering a career in social work, she encourages them to become a social worker if they have passion for the field. “Do it because you have the passion. You are going to need that passion on the hard days,” she said. “Find your passion within the social work career, and practice self-care on a regular basis.”
David Hargrave, bereavement counseling professional at Ohio’s Hospice LifeCare, has been drawn to the helping professions since childhood. Social work offered him a foundation and framework to help others in a variety of platforms.
One of his most memorable experiences as a social worker was when he was called upon to help two young boys whose single-parent mother was dying of cancer. “It is rewarding to share the sacred space and vulnerability with the patients I’m privileged to serve and be a part of the positive coping and healing process,” he said.
For those considering a career in social work, he would encourage them to think about the challenges and rewards of this field.
Marsha Potts, medical social worker at Ohio’s Hospice LifeCare, has many memorable moments of helping patients throughout her 30-year career as a social worker. But there is one patient she will always remember.
The patient wanted to remain in his home with his pets. But the patient’s estranged son wanted to place him in a nursing home. Marsha advocated to have the nursing, personal care specialist, social work, and volunteer visits needed to meet his goal of remaining in his home. She reached out to the son on a regular basis to provide him with updates on the services Ohio’s Hospice Lifecare was providing.
“In the end, the patient’s son was at his father’s bedside when the patient passed,” she said. “It is such an honor to be welcomed into our patients’ and families’ lives as they travel the journey to the end of life. If we allow ourselves to be present with them, they teach us so much.”
She describes a career in social work as challenging but rewarding. “We have to think outside the box and learn to be very flexible.”
Mark Miller, medical social worker at Ohio’s Hospice Loving Care, became a social worker 38 years ago to help people. “It is an honor to have a family allow me to be a part of their process at a tender and emotional time,” he said. “It is a wonderful connection with humanity.”
His most meaningful experiences during his career as a social worker have centered around the moments when he knew his presence and interventions with the patient or family had a significant impact on them.
“If you value people above product, social work is a good career to purse,” he said.
Stephanie Jeffords, medical social worker at Ohio’s Hospice Loving Care, describes a career in social work as challenging, humbling and heart wrenching. “It is filled with joy, tears and laughter,” she said. “We hear our patients’ stories, see sorrow, walk along the path with another, and hold hands at a final breath, knowing that there is light at the end of the journey.”
One of the most memorable moments of her career was when a family member told her that he was so grateful for all that the care team did. To express his appreciation, he gave her a Hershey’s kiss!
For those considering a career in social work, Stephanie encourages them to explore the field. “You will either love it or hate it,” she said. “I love it!”
Vonne Barnett, medical social worker at Ohio’s Community Mercy Hospice, expressed that many people need an advocate. Many patients and families have never received support from a social worker. “It is amazing what can be accomplished when several individuals work toward the same goal,” she said. “A word of encouragement or providing a sense of empowerment helps someone a great deal.”
She recalls being with a patient and family when the patient passed. She had just completed her initial assessment of the patient when the crisis care nurse alerted the family that the patient was passing. She stayed with the family and prayed for the family and the patient. “The family was wonderful,” she said. “I was very glad I was able to be present for them.”
Working with older adults has been rewarding for her. For those considering a career in social work, she encourages them to consider working with older adults. “Each day is like a history lesson that cannot be found in any history book,” she said. “When I perform a life review, I am fortunate to get a completely unique glimpse into the individual history of one person’s life struggles and joys.”
Elaine Wagnon, medical social worker at Ohio’s Hospice of Dayton, became a social worker to help people. As she reflected on her career, she described social work as sad and hard at times. “But it is rewarding because patients and families are letting me in for a very difficult time in their lives,” she said. “I get to be there to listen when many others do not want to hear because of our culture’s tendency to not want to talk or think about death.”
She was honored and privileged to be there for one of her patients who passed while she was visiting the patient in the hospital. The patient knew she was dying. When Wagnon told her she would call a family member, the patient asked her to stay with her. “I stayed with her holding her hand and speaking softly to her until she was no longer able to respond, and her breathing changed,” Elaine said. “I called her family member. I went back to her room and held her hand until she died. It was such an honor to be there for this woman for the end of her life.”
For those considering a career in social work, she has found it to be a rewarding career. “Helping an individual person is just as important as changing the world,” she said.
Sierra Drees, medical social worker at Ohio’s Hospice of Dayton, wanted to become a social worker to help others in the community. “It’s rewarding being a part of someone’s life during the final chapter,” she said. “This is something not everyone can do.”
One of the highlights of her career was helping a family stay in their home when they faced eviction. She was able to help them stay in the home until the patient passed. Then, she assisted that family with developing their next move.
If someone is interested in a career in social work, she encourages them to find the population that they want to work with and pursue career opportunities with that population.
Brenda Kosir, medical social worker at Ohio’s Hospice of Dayton, volunteered in hospitals as a teenager. She knew she wanted to go into the medical field. She found that social work would be the best fit for her. “It lets me serve patients and be present with them without the agenda of the medical piece,” she said. “We get to come at the situation from a completely different angle. We help round out the patient’s experience.”
One of her most memorable experiences as a social worker was helping a patient who had lost almost all of his possessions and was being evicted from his apartment. She connected him with Veterans Affairs, where he lived the rest of his days. “I helped him collect the important belongings he had left in his apartment,” she said. “They fit in a shoebox.”
She sat with him as he spoke about each memento. The one she specifically remembers was his deceased wife’s driver’s license. It was the only picture of her he had left. “If you ever think there’s no such thing as a good driver’s license picture, I would have to disagree,” she said. “Her picture was beautiful, if only because I got to see it through his eyes. I felt like my presence that day, witnessing his life summed up in a shoebox, was a God breeze. He was so grateful for my presence and my intervention.”
Shawna Ayers, medical social worker at Ohio’s Hospice of Dayton, has always been a helper. Ever since she was a child, she was always buying things for her sibling. She was the one they came to when they had a problem. That has never changed. Having experienced a rough life, she wanted to help others who were going through things in their lives, too.
“Being a social worker allows me to do a lot of things including therapy, advocacy, support, and connecting people with services they need,” she said. “It has been hard, but it has been very rewarding. I get to help not only patients, but their families. This is very rewarding to me because we can have such a huge impact or be the one difference between how they cope.”
Julia Floyd, medical social worker at Ohio’s Hospice of Dayton, became a social worker after discovering she had an ability to put her personal perspectives, biases and beliefs aside and show true empathy to help another person become a better version of themselves.
One of her most memorable moments was when she met with an elderly patient to do an initial assessment. “The first thing he asked me to do was hold my hand to which I quickly and unwaveringly did,” she said. “We held hands like we had been friends for a long time. I learned in that moment everyone needs someone to hold their hand when we are approaching the end of this life.”
For those who are considering a career in social work, she recommends that they choose the path that speaks to them. “Shadow someone who has had a successful career at doing what you aspire to do,” she said. “Go for it! If your initial passion changes, that’s OK, too. The help you give to someone else is its own reward.”
Laura Clemans, manager of social workers at Ohio’s Hospice of Dayton, described how spending time with the elderly is something that she has always enjoyed since she was a small child. “Listening to others talk about illness, death and dying and offering support has always been something I’m comfortable with,” she said.
In college, her undergraduate guidance counselor encouraged her to pursue her master’s degree in social work. While in school, she became a hospice volunteer and then a hospice social worker after graduating.
“I have had a very rewarding career in social work. Almost all of it has been in hospice,” she said. “I am fortunate to work every day with excellent social workers serving those at the end of life and the people caring for them. It is a true privilege that I am grateful for.”
Lisa Balster, director of Patient & Family Support Services at Ohio’s Hospice of Dayton, is grateful to have been a hospice social worker for many years. When she was in her 20s, she was not sure that she could do it. “It turned out that being a hospice social worker opened up a whole world for me that I hadn’t known about — many different kinds of people, so many kind and wonderful people, and also bitter and angry people who have been tremendously hurt by life,” she said. “I was shown, day by day, people with no family, very few friends, and very few options for basics like a safe place to live and food to eat. I was shown situations that were so touching, such as the teen whose bed was taken to the great room so her friends could have one last ‘sleepover’ with her.”
So many times, she thought she was there to help and then found that what people had to say had also helped her. “This showed me how important it is for us each to have something to offer, something to give, to reciprocate even when we lay dying,” she said. “I had to consider becoming a gracious receiver of these people’s wisdom.”
Throughout her career, she has learned how to empower others to care for themselves. “Being present for patients and their families has been one of things I am most grateful for in my life,” she said. “The other thing I am grateful for is to be able to spend a lifetime knowing, working with, and feeling accepted by my hospice colleagues. It is my sincere hope that hospice social workers always know how important they are and that they belong with a very special group of healers.”
Special thanks to all our social workers across Ohio for their support of our mission! We are honored and privileged to recognize and celebrate our social workers during Social Work Month.
If you would like to consider a career in social work at Ohio’s Hospice and our affiliates, please visit our website at: www.OhiosHospice.org/Careers