Conference Examines End-of-Life Treatment

More than 300 people attended NASW’s second annual practice conference, “Social Work’s Critical Role in End-of-Life Care,” in Boston.

“The conference was well received,” said NASW Executive Director Elizabeth J. Clark, who gave the opening address at the event. “We heard many compliments about the quality of the speakers and their topics and how well organized it turned out. We were also happy to learn we had attendees from as far away as Japan, Canada, the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, and nearly 40 states were represented.”

The August gathering offered the opportunity to hear from a variety of leaders in end-of-life and palliative care and exchange dialogue on those topics.

Among the presenters was Patti O’Donnell, director of the Center for Ethics at Inova Health System in Virginia. She presented a three-hour workshop on social work ethics in end-of-life care. She said she was impressed with the conference, especially the depth of issues discussed.

“It was very well planned and very balanced,” she said, adding that Clark “gave a very good overview of how far we have come.”

O’Donnell noted that end-of-life care affects all aspects of social work practice. “Even if you do not deal directly with it, unresolved losses can continue to complicate people’s lives for years to come,” she said.

Karen Bullock, associate professor at the University of Connecticut School of Social Work, presented “Cultural Competency in End-of-Life Care.”

“I thought the conference was phenomenal,” Bullock said. “I really liked the structure of having everyone together for certain educational components, then having breakout groups to cover additional content. I was very pleased to see that attention was given to cultural issues and the gap in hospice and palliative care utilization across racial and ethnic groups.”

Bullock said end-of-life care is essential to social work because medical advances and technology have made it possible to live longer with life-threatening and terminal illnesses. “The Social Work Code of Ethics lends itself nicely to guide optimal end-of-life care,” she said.

Bullock noted that as an associate professor and researcher, she appreciated the opportunity to connect with practitioners. “It was extremely beneficial to come together with my colleagues who are making the tough decision every day about how best to care for a person who is dying and the [clent’s] family,” she said.

Gretchen Brown, president and CEO of Hospice of the Bluegrass in Lexington, Ky., and her colleague Sherri Weisenfluh, associate clinical officer of counseling, presented “End-of-Life Care in Nursing Homes.”

Brown said she was impressed by the quality of speaker presentations, especially that of Kenneth Doka, professor of gerontology at the Graduate School of The College of New Rochelle and senior consultant to the Hospice Foundation of America. He gave a keynote presentation that covered a variety of topics in end-of-life care, including new ways of understanding grief and intervention strategies.

Brown also chairs the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization. She said NASW’s conference was a perfect fit to precede NHPCO’s conference, “Developing the Care Continuum: Innovative Models to Meet the Unique Needs of Patients/Families,” located in the same venue.

“Social work is an important part of the team in any hospice care,” she said. “Social workers are the second-largest workforce after nurses in hospice care.”

She said regardless of practice, all social workers can benefit from understanding more about advances in end-of-life care. “Every social worker needs some basic knowledge about the field and how best to refer someone for services,” she said.

The presenting sponsor for the practice conference was NASW Assurance Services Inc. It was co-sponsored by NASW’s Massachusetts Chapter, NHPCO, the NASW Foundation, VITAS and Hospice of the Bluegrass.

Massachusetts Chapter Executive Director Carol Trust said end-of-life care is a timely topic for the social work profession. “It not only affects our professional lives, but also our personal lives,” she said.