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Honoring Social Work and Social Workers


By Toni L. Eaton RN, BSN, MS

We may not recognize it, but year after year, social workers are unsung super heroes helping to keep society together during challenging times. I know how critical social workers are in the nation’s health care system, whether they’re assisting people to avoid homelessness, navigate a mental health crisis, find safety from a violent situation, or cope during the pandemic.

Historically, social workers have been among the leaders that have worked to secure voting rights, push for equal rights, and establish economic safety programs. Today, there are more than 700,000 social workers nationwide continuing the legacy of caring for our country’s most vulnerable and advocating for programs and policies that raise people up.

In honor of Social Work Month in March, the National Association of Social Workers has launched the “Social Workers are Essential” campaign to highlight the critical work social workers have been doing for decades and the crucial contributions they have made most recently during the pandemic.

We at Old Colony Hospice & Palliative Care know firsthand how valuable social workers are. We have seven top-notch social workers who work closely with each patient’s team of doctors, nurses, and clergy in our efforts to bring dignity to our patients during the end-of-life journey. Our social workers spend time to find out what matters most to patients and their families during this time and try to help make it happen. It could be something as simple as finding a hairdresser that can come into the home or as complicated as reconciling family schisms before someone passes away.

As our Director of Social Work & Support Services Samantha B. says, “Social work is about empowering those we work with to take the steps they need to take.”

OCH social workers run caregiver and grief support meetings for families; help coordinate pandemic coping tools for communities; assist families with living wills; advocate for home renovations so patients can return home; and even work to find loving homes for beloved pets who will survive their owners.

They are incredibly kind and creative caregivers:

  • One patient loved mystery novels but could no longer read because of her eyesight. An OCH social worker visited her once a week to read and hold a “book club” with her.
  • Another patient fled to the United States from political persecution and had a lifelong dream of becoming an American citizen before he died. An OCH social worker helped him with the process and obtained funding for transportation to the embassy, where he at last took the oath of US citizenship. He died a few days later.
  • On one occasion, our social workers actually took on the role of wedding planners, helping a patient fulfill her dying wish to renew her marriage vows.

Here in our organization, as in the rest of society, social workers have been key during the pandemic. They have been on the front lines along with doctors, nurses, grocery story workers, and emergency personnel. Social workers have continued to work at hospices, schools, nursing homes, hospitals, mental health centers, private practices, child welfare, and assisted living facilities to get people the services they need. Social workers toil in every facet of society, helping people to connect to services they need and to lead more fulfilling lives.

Although social workers are critical in the nation’s health care system, the profession faces a shortage of personnel, which will make it more difficult for society in the future to cope with complicated issues such as trauma, poverty, addiction and end-of-life care. The United States will need many more social workers as our nation’s population ages and mental health concerns in all age groups continue to rise. To encourage people to enter the field, advocates have proposed legislation, such as the Social Work Reinvestment Act, that would tackle such barriers as high caseloads, low salaries, and student loan debt.

If you know a social worker, take a moment to say thank you.

Toni L. Eaton, RN, BSN, MS, is the President & CEO of Old Colony Hospice & Palliative Care of West Bridgewater, a dynamic non-profit hospice serving more than 55 communities south of Boston. OCH also runs the Dr. Ruth McLain Hospice Home in Braintree. A native and resident of the South Shore, Toni brings her compassion and experience as a nurse, a veteran, and a community leader to her insightful columns for South Shore Senior News. Her leadership has been honored by several groups including the South Shore Women’s Business Network.     

She currently sits on the boards of the Hospice & Palliative Care Federation of Massachusetts and the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization Regulatory Committee. For more information, call (781) 341-4145 or visit Old Colony Hospice & Palliative Care at www.oldcolonyhospice.org.