Hot on the trail of understanding the whole picture at hospice, I turned my inquisitive pen toward some of the actual “in-home” workers.
In this case, I had the pleasure of talking with two hospice social workers, Angie Pickel and Karen Griemsmann. Both have college degrees in social work and both are well experienced in the mysteries of their craft.
But it turns out that the important part of their work usually cannot be learned from a book, for it flows from the heart. It is composed of a river of caring for the client that borders on almost unbelievable compassion for both the client and their families.
Remembering that hospice care begins with those in the final stages of life, usually in their home, who no longer wish to seek medical curative care for their ills, I continued the interview.
It is at this point that the hospice social workers arrive on the scene. Griemsmann and Pickel were both in agreement about what they do. An assessment of the new client’s situation is needed.
The social workers gently try to get to know the client and to find out how he/she came to be the person they now see in the final stage of their life. Suggestions as to helpful palliative care are made. Every effort is put forth to accommodate the client’s wishes.
Griemsmann and Pickel both also stressed that they spend a lot of time getting to know the family and in trying to make them comfortable with the situation as well. Every effort is expended to prepare both the client and the family for the events soon to descend upon them.
What help is available from the family? What is the client able to do or willing to do during the course of his/her illness? Very important questions, these.
In other matters, spiritual guidance of the client’s choosing is offered. Help with preparing final legal documents is available. Review of the family’s finances is also offered, according to the client’s wishes.
Other community resources can be enlisted. The hospice workers are knowledgeable about such things as Agency on Aging, Meals on Wheels, the local Board of Assistance, nursing homes and Medicare, to name but a few.
Probably the most important skill that these hospice social workers possess is that they are trained to listen.
“Sometimes just hearing them out is the most important thing that we can do for them,” Pickel said.
“Yes,” agreed Griemsmann. “We do try to remain flexible in working with each client. We always remember that it’s their home and their lives that we are working with.”
They both nodded.
After wiping a tear from my eye, I asked, “But what do you do with all this information?” I soon found out.
They take it back to their offices at Hospice of The Good Shepherd headquarters at Luther Ridge and discuss it with the other members of the team. The word “team” is one of the keys to understanding what hospice is all about.
The other key word is “plan.” Every client has one, an ever-changing flexible guideline, subject to the client’s approval as to how to best make him/her and their families both comfortable and emotionally secure during this stage of the illness.
There are so many different angles to hospice care, that I am now just beginning to see how they all fit into place. I thought that my interviewees summed it up rather neatly by saying, “We become like part of their family.”
What more could I say?
Bob Harrison is writing this column as a Hospice of the Good Shepherd volunteer in gratitude for hospice experiences during his late wife’s illness.
For additional information, call 264-8178 or toll free 1-800-840-9081, Web site lutheranhomecare.org or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Reprinted with permission of Public Opinion.