Social Workers Get New Standards for End-of-Life Care
Jennifer LeClaire, Monster Contributing Writer
As the nation’s 76 million Baby Boomers begin to age, that generation — born between 1946 and 1964 — stands to drive up the need for end-of-life and palliative care, an approach that improves quality of life for patients and their families facing life-threatening and life-ending illnesses.
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Anticipating this impending need, the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) has issued standards for social work practice in palliative and end-of-life care. The guidelines will cover practical issues, such as potential ethical dilemmas, cultural competency and care-assessment needs for aging Boomers and others facing these stressful situations.
“Many social workers did not have formal end-of-life care training during school,” says NASW executive director Betsy Clark. “These guidelines help social workers understand their role in palliative and end-of-life care and also set standards of care for practitioners.”
Dealing with palliative and end-of-life care is typically part of the social worker’s daily duties, regardless of the practice setting. Clark says social workers help people of varying cultures, ages, socioeconomic statuses and family dynamics cope with trauma, suicide and death across the life span.
“Social workers are a valuable part of an interdisciplinary team of healthcare professionals, because they understand cultural competency,” says Karyn Walsh, a spokeswoman for the NASW’s Practice and Policy Department. “Different cultures have different ways of living and different ways of dying. We have to respect those cultural preferences.”
As patient advocates, social workers are often part of a team that helps physicians, nurses and other healthcare professionals understand the unique needs of a patient and his family. For that reason, the social worker can serve as a communication bridge between busy healthcare administrators and the patients and family members who are suffering.
“Death and disease [are] devastating, and there are psychological reactions, social reactions and financial implications in addition to the physical needs,” Walsh says. “None of those pieces can be ignored.”