Living the Life of a Hospice Social Worker - Heart 'n Home Hospice & Palliative Care, LLC

Living the Life of a Hospice Social Worker

At Heart ‘n Home we call our Social Workers ‘Care Navigators’ because of the guidance they give to patients and families in so many different areas. They offer a broad spectrum of services to help patients and families navigate through this often unknown end-of-life experience. From paperwork and planning to teaching how to cope before and after death, our Care Navigators play an important role in patient care.

Each March we celebrate National Social Work Month. We are thankful for each and every one of our hard-working, dedicated Care Navigators. In honor of Social Work Month, we wanted to spotlight the position and find out straight from one of our Care Navigators what it is like to walk a day in their shoes. Sharla has worked for Heart ‘n Home for over a decade. She has blessed the lives of so many. We recently asked her some questions about being a Care Navigator (Social Worker) in hospice. Here is what we learned.

What led you to pursue a career in social work?

After high school, I knew that I wanted to be in a helping profession and I felt I needed to choose between nursing and social work.  Choosing social work as a career was the best option for me.  After graduation from college in 1992, my first job was at a nursing home and this is where my passion for medical social work started.  Helping people who have limitations due to physical conditions, cognitive issues, and developmental issues is something that fills my bucket.  When hospice found me 12 years ago, I felt that I had reached the most significant work that a social worker could ever do.

What kind of services do you provide for patients?

A social worker provides information and assistance in applying for resources, completing advance directives, finalizing funeral arrangements, honoring Veterans, and helping people navigate the emotional journey that end of life can be.

What is your favorite part(s) of your job?

My absolute favorite part of this job is helping people navigate the emotional journey.  This is where the work can be so rewarding.  Helping people discover what they need to do to achieve their goal for the end of their life fills my bucket.  Sometimes that goal is peace at the end of their life, so we talk about what roadblocks might be in their way to achieve peace.  These roadblocks could be forgiveness, relationship issues, reconnecting, saying goodbye, or even making sure that everything is taken care of so they don’t have to worry about their loved ones.

Because your job can be taxing at times, what are some things that you like to do to unwind on your time away from work?

I enjoy going on tandem bicycle rides with my husband.  This activity acts as a de-stressor as well as providing for some uninterrupted time together.  I also enjoy going to the gym 3 days a week as well as the occasional run.  I have started to do yoga recently.

I also enjoy playing around on the piano, reading a good book, and spending quality time with friends who fill my soul.

Can you tell me something that you have learned or gained by working at Heart ‘n Home?

I have gained so much by working at Heart ‘n Home that there are too many things to write down.  Probably the MOST important thing that I have gained is an understanding that life is unpredictable; therefore, living in the moment, loving my people, saying what needs to be said, and holding onto hope are invaluable as I move through the rest of my life.

Some people have the misconception that hospice care is “creepy” and there is a lot of fear around death and dying topics. How did you overcome this and what would you say to others with those same concerns?

I grew up living in a funeral home as my father is a mortician.  I have always viewed death as a normal part of life so I don’t remember having to overcome this idea.  I have been around people who have the thought that the work I do is strange, but most of them are thankful that someone can be of help to people who are dying.  Most of the time, people are curious, but often afraid to ask questions.  For those with concerns about death and dying, I would encourage them to consider the reality that they are mortal beings and by ignoring this reality, we are robbing ourselves of living a full life.

Why do you think that hospice care is such a valuable component of our healthcare model?

Treating everyone with dignity and respect at the end of their lives, regardless of their age, circumstances, economic level, etc. is a vital part of the hospice model.  This is valuable because we are finite beings and caring for people throughout their lives needs to be an integral part of healthcare.


Do you have a favorite/memorable story or experience that you would like to share?

One of my favorite memories is of a female patient I had.  She was willing to work on her significant emotional pain with me during our visits together.  We worked together for about five months before her death.  One day she asked me if my mother was alive still.  I told her that my mother had died a few years earlier.  This patient looked me in the eye and said, “When I get to heaven, I am going to find her and I will tell her what a wonderful person you are.  I will tell her how much you helped me and how you have turned out.  I will thank her for providing you to me.”

Sharla P., Care Navigator

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