Social Workers: Not in it for the income, but in it for the outcome

Categories: People & Places.

Priscilla Botha has been a social worker in the police force since 1991 and served for 16 years with the intention of retiring afterwards. Her plans soon changed when an opportunity became available at Msunduzi Hospice who was at the time looking for one. Without any doubt, she believed that this was meant to be as working with patients directly added much more value which brought another dynamic to her working environment. ”Working with hospices and real life –threatening illnesses does make a difference.” she added.

While serving in the police force, she mainly engaged with staff members and because it is such a high stressed environment, a lot of issues such as alcohol abuse and physical abuse was some of the things she needed to resolve in order for these members to continue their work. This was very different to what she is doing now. Priscilla has been with hospice for 8 years now and enjoy working with patients, especially patient care.

Role of a Social Worker

Social workers work in a clinical team where patient cases are assessed by nurses. Once they discover psychosocial issues, they are then referred to a social worker. We then do a home visit and asses further. Issues vary from patients adjusting to their illness which is most common to the family that needs to adjust and accept the patient’s illness. It is very important to not only meet the needs of the patient but the family as a whole. If we know that the patient is in their last days, severe intervention takes place.

At times it is difficult especially when family members are overseas. How do you explain to them that their mom or dad is going to die shortly? These are some of the challenges we are faced with but generally find solutions.

Process of intervention

When patients are referred by a nurse, we as social workers need to see them within 72 hours according to our standards, setting a goal to establish if the issue can be resolved within a few months. We normally see patients once a month but in severe cases we can see patients 2-3 times a week. In situations where the patient has passed on, we continue to keep in touch with their family for at least 3 months and if we find there are still complications we call in a bereavement counsellor. This also gives us an opportunity to get closure.

Memory work

Children often don’t understand what is happening while their mom or dad is ill. The memory work concept has 2 elements which helps a child through this process:

1.      Memory Book

Two “memory workers” work with these children for a duration of 6 months where they are able to  focus on the adjustment of the illness encountered in the family setting, emotionally and spiritually .The memory book helps children together with the patient (while they can still interact) make memories. Thoughts and feelings are discussed and stories are written in this book about themselves so that when the patient is no longer there, children can reflect and remember the last days spent together.

2.      Memory Box

Each child also receives a memory box which he/she can decorate. This is too part of the healing process where the patient can include something sentimental and significant. When the patient passes, children have something physical to reflect on.

Have a deeper look inside the workings of Msunduzi Hospice here.