Hospice Austin social workers are on the emotional front lines for patients and families coming to the end of life’s journey. They help families heal fractured relationships, plan funerals, access social support services, normalize symptoms, and give voice to their sadness and fear. They provide a calming presence by holding space and offering support for the social and emotional issues that arise during this agonizing time. They help patients and families build on their own emotional strength.
Peg Maupin, a Hospice Austin social worker for the past 11 years, said she received a call one night recently from the spouse of a new patient who has struggled with mental illness. The wife spoke about her fears and feeling vulnerable and fragile. Peg reflected these things back to her and then also described the wife’s obvious life-long strength, resiliency and strong support system. Peg said, “I heard her voice change and it became stronger and calmer. We developed a plan for the night and the next day. My hope was, at least for a period, that she could lay with her husband and rest.”
Keri Kinsey, a social worker on the home team, has been working with one of her patients for much of her two-year tenure at Hospice Austin. She said he is only now starting to trust her enough to be really vulnerable and share his deepest fears, sadness, and joys. Keri has helped him transition from his apartment to Hospice Austin’s Christopher House (during a medical crisis), into a nursing facility (for extended care, where he was angry and resentful) and back into an apartment (when he started feeling better). During that time, she also supported the patient’s daughter while she supported her father, jumping through hoops with social security, SNAP, and other social service agencies.
Keri said, “I feel that I have made a difference in providing education for this patient so that he better understands his diagnosis, how to participate in his own disease and symptom management, and how to get psychosocial support. I guess being part of someone’s life for this period of time allows you to do that kind of work!”
Home team social worker Nadia Velasquez appreciates the fact that as a nonprofit, there is so much diversity in Hospice Austin’s patient population. She enjoys working with all ages, ethnicities, races, socioeconomic statuses, and gender identities. “One of the core components in social work is to practice cultural humility,” Nadia observed. “This job challenges me to work with all populations and to continue to educate myself on how to provide the best service to all persons.”
Hospice Austin’s Christopher House social worker Gia Houck said while the support she provides in the inpatient unit is similar to social workers on home team, it is more concentrated in terms of how fast things move. Sometimes she’ll come to work and three people have passed away in the night and two more patients are coming in. And because patients are in a medical crisis and often close to death, family dynamics can be intense. An important part of her job, she says, is offering emotional support to fellow staff at Christopher House.
Supporting and bringing together families in crisis are the most delicate and rewarding part of any hospice social worker’s job.
“Families coming back together can happen in a matter of hours or days,” Gia said. “It gives me hope. It’s the beauty and mystery of life. Even in these difficult moments, we can find beauty.”
She remembers one nine-year-old patient whose parents were divorced and couldn’t even be in the same room with one another. She worked with the father while another social worker worked with the mother. They helped the child express to his parents his desire for them to put aside their differences and be there for him. His parents came together and supported him in the end. One evening, while laying on the couch, he said to Gia and his grandmother, “I told my mom earlier today that my work here is done. I’ve done a really good job of being a good son and being all that I needed to be.” Later that night, he passed away.
“Being a hospice social worker gives me a sense of belonging in the whole of humankind,” Gia said. “It’s such a difficult time in a family’s life – the fact that we’re actually able to provide support and guidance is so rewarding.”