Social workers are a cornerstone of care for Suncoast Hospice, a member of Empath Health. With a large presence of social workers across the organization, including many leaders with a background in the field, we recognize the important contributions they make every day.
From finding and connecting patients to resources to asking the sometimes difficult questions that need to be asked, social workers are there to help.
“Patient advocacy is a huge component of being a social worker,” says Ronnie Featherstone, LCSW, director of social work practice for Suncoast Hospice. “We’re really engaging patient and family wherever they call home to meet their individual needs.”
Conversations around the end-of-life are often difficult for families, however social workers can facilitate them into meaningful discussions about what is most important for the patient and their family during the time they have left.
“Each person is unique in what they would and wouldn’t want for care,” adds Featherstone. “We can help them put those wishes into writing through talking about living wills, advance directives and the healthcare choices that are available to them.”
Patients and families are at the center of all we do and social workers have the skills to open dialogues not only with loved ones, but between members of the care team as well.
A care team typically consists of a nurse, physician, social worker, spiritual care coordinator, volunteers and certified home health aides. Often, staff may have overlapping visits and will work together to accomplish care. Social workers can help field questions from family or friends that may be present allowing clinical staff to focus on what they do best. Teams also come together for weekly meetings to collaborate on care for each family.
Over the past year, COVID-19 required many aspects of social work to shift. Telehealth has been a part of healthcare for some time, but the necessity of meeting with patients virtually pushed it to the forefront of care.
Unable to visit patient homes because of limited personal protective equipment (PPE) and the restricted ability to visit those in skilled nursing and assisted living facilities, Featherstone and his team began using Zoom to connect with patients and families as well as other care team members while working remotely.
“Telehealth played a really big role in allowing us to remain connected, but we had to make adjustments to still do quality work,” explains Featherstone. “Reading body language and nonverbal cues is an important part of our work and those can be difficult to pick up over video.”
Overcoming those obstacles took patience, skill and constant fine-tuning to acclimate to the new way of doing things. When in-person visits were able to begin again, the addition PPE also posed new challenges. For some patients, particularly those in nursing facilities, it can be frightening to see someone come in with a mask, face shield and a gown. Careful explanation of how these measures are keeping patients safe became a necessary step in many cases.
Even in the face of these challenges, the social work team at Suncoast Hospice has continued to adapt and provide quality, compassionate care to every patient, participant, client and family they serve.
“It’s an honor for me to with such an amazing group of social workers,” adds Featherstone. “It’s so important to recognize the incredible work they are doing out there.”
Learn more about how Suncoast Hospice can provide expert care and compassion to help you or a loved one live comfortably and fully.