As a Master’s level practicum student with a local University, I chose Hospice of Southern Illinois for my final 600-hour practicum. In May, 2020, I will graduate from the University of Missouri-St. Louis with a Master’s Degree in Social Work. Initially, I was worried that working in hospice would be uncomfortable and honestly, dreary. What I experienced though, was respect and dignity. It can be challenging and emotionally draining at times. I witnessed the impact Social Work can have in a hospice setting as a true benefit to patients and families.
The Hospice of Southern Illinois Social Work team plans their schedule to be accommodating and meet patients and families during the point of their day when they can benefit the most from a Social Work visit. This is typically in the late morning and afternoon. The route is planned as a guideline to allow for crisis and triage needs of the patients that may arise during the day or night. My current knowledge base is from a nursing home perspective. Hospice of Southern Illinois works in patient homes, nursing homes, assisted livings, memory care settings, adult group homes, and hospitals. My practicum has allowed me the opportunity to witness the Social Work team in all these diverse settings. Being able to go into patients’ homes has been so valuable to me. I’ve had to learn safety and etiquette when entering a new patient’s home, and also the technical realities of Social Work outside of an office. Being in the home setting has a different set of demands than being in a facility. The most beneficial component for me when going from different settings is that it allows me time to mentally prepare and decompress on the way to and from each visit.
One of the hardest skills I learned is how to be present and let a family feel their pain and loss. Often I would find myself in situations where I had no idea what to say to a grieving family. In some instances, I am sitting on their couch, in their living room, that has been turned into a patient’s bedroom complete with hospital bed and medical supplies in reach. I cannot imagine the challenges involved in changing your daily life in order to care for your loved one who is terminally ill and now on hospice services. I would be distraught if I had to leave my job and routine to be there for my family member each day at home. I would do it, but that is not anyone’s ideal situation. What can you say to this family? I said nothing, I didn’t need to. I acknowledged how good of a job they are doing taking care of their family member and was in awe of how much respect and dignity they are providing.
Overall, working with the Social Workers and the Bereavement Counselors, I was able to experience and witness first-hand the skills and techniques implemented by staff that I know are related to their experience and training. If I still have your attention, I want to use this opportunity to thank Pam Rorie and Lisa Simonin for taking me under their wings and answering all of my questions. Every Tuesday and Friday since August, 2019, they have shared their days with me, either in the office or on the road. I know it takes them longer to complete their documentation and tasks when they take the time to explain the methods and ask my perspective. Their impact on my education does not go unrecognized. Their impact on the community, its most vulnerable population, should not go unnoticed. Thank you to the Social Work team at Hospice of Southern Illinois for the difference you make in the community.
Thank you, Macy Wierschem BSW