Tidewell Hospice social worker Mary Beth Shallcross, LCSW, MSSW, sees herself as a problem solver. An important part of solving problems, she says, is anticipating the issues patients, caregivers and loved ones might face during an end-of-life journey with Tidewell.

“My job is to eliminate the crisis before it happens,” Shallcross said, “and make sure we’re not going to run into ‘I can’t do this’ anytime, but especially not Friday at 3 o’clock. We want to try to avoid the problems. When I go in there initially, what I’m doing is trying to figure out what are the potential pitfalls here and deal with them so they don’t ever happen.”

March is National Social Work Month, a time to honor the nation’s almost 72,000 social workers for their daily commitment to impart skills, knowledge, resources and encouragement to help people overcome life’s challenges. Empath Health employs about 140 hospice social workers.

Hospice social workers help patients and their loved ones navigate end-of-life challenges, understand their treatment plan, manage emotional stress that comes with advanced illness and connect with community support systems. They also assist with advance care planning and funeral arrangements.

Shallcross, based at Tidewell’s Bradenton office, is in her 22nd year as a Tidewell social worker. She set out to be a high school English teacher but shifted gears before ever entering a classroom. Shallcross decided to obtain her Master of Social Work degree at the University of Louisville. She interned at the Hospice of Louisville and took a full-time job there.

“I got a late start,” she said. “I think the reason I got into social work was I just loved helping people. I really did. I loved old people in particular.”

Shallcross said many things about her job have changed since she started in 2000. There are more crises, like drug diversions and family caregivers who say they can’t handle the care of their loved one. She also is assisting more families with hospice patients who are children or teens.

Social workers can become a lifeline to the outside world for patients who have few family members or friends nearby.

“I think during the pandemic in particular, people really loved having our visits because a lot of them were not seeing people,” she said. “It was a breath of fresh air. Just helping people. Like this week, I had a man who is estranged from almost everyone in his family, and he was pretty much bed-bound. The house was a complete mess with food all over, and there were flies into the food. We were able to get him into the Arcadia Hospice House temporarily until he goes into long-term care. Those are the people that fall by the wayside. I feel very fortunate to be able to help them.”

Shallcross also assists her colleagues at Tidewell. In 2016, she became a Qualified Supervisor with the state of Florida to prepare social workers for the Licensed Clinical Social Worker exam. The state requires LCSW candidates to have 100 hours of supervised experience and course work. Shallcross has supervised one Tidewell social worker who earned LCSW certification and is working with two others.

“Mary Beth is a thorough and skilled clinician who is amazing at finding resources and is always sharing those resources with the social work team,” said Kelly Rice, MSW, Tidewell’s senior coordinator of social workers. “She has been very accommodating in giving of her time and sharing her knowledge with our social workers so that they can obtain their clinical supervision hours to earn their LCSW. Mary Beth has a true social worker’s heart.”

Tidewell Hospice and Suncoast Hospice are Empath Health companies. If you or a loved one could benefit from hospice care, call (855) 843-3935 (in Sarasota, Manatee, Charlotte and DeSoto counties), (727) 467-7423 (in Pinellas County), or (813) 651-7300 (in Hillsborough County).