SWPI Hosts Symposium on Hospice Social Work

Jeri MillerJeri Miller of the National Institute of Nursing Research discusses her workgroup’s findings during the symposium.

Hospice researchers, practitioners and policymakers gathered in March for the NASW Foundation’s Social Work Policy Institute symposium called “Hospice Social Work: Linking Policy, Practice and Research.”

Hospice social work, like most social work fields of practice, is in need of more research to demonstrate its effectiveness as a member of the hospice care team, said SWPI Director Joan Levy Zlotnik.

“As hospices are implementing the revised federal conditions of participation, this is an important time to examine the crucial role that professional social workers play in hospice care,” she said.

Among the presenters was Samira Beckwith, president and CEO of Hope Hospice and Community Services in Fort Myers, Fla. She said social workers play a vital role on the hospice interdisciplinary team. They provide psychosocial support to patients and families and they define the service goals to help alleviate stressors, she said. A key service they provide is to follow up with family members and offer assistance after a loved one has died.

Ron Fried, senior vice president at VITAS Innovative Hospice Care in Miami, said it’s crucial that hospice social work be validated properly. He explained that the federal health care reform legislation passed in March urges health care transparency and accountability from practitioners.

Because nearly all hospice care is paid through Medicaid or Medicare and federally regulated, it can become a challenge to record every action a hospice social worker performs, he acknowledged. Nonetheless, he added, recordkeeping is vital for the future of the profession in order to make the skills quantifiable.

At the moment, Beckwith said, little evidence exists to outline the benefits of social work on a hospice care team.

“We’ve got to find ways to document it,” she said. “We know what we do, but how are we going to document it and make it part of our research?”

Capt. Mary Rossi-Coajou of the U.S. Public Health Service and senior nurse consultant for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and Danielle Shearer, health insurance specialist at CMS and its Office of Standards and Quality, reported on the process involved in developing the conditions of participation and how robust research is often sought to stand behind specific standards.

They explained that CMS is also evaluating its value through a Quality Assessment and Performance Improvement program. It operates on two levels, one patient-focused and the other for the hospice facility. The CMS officials said that the intent of QAPI is to develop assessments based on research that will report on quality measures of care.

Zlotnik said the March meeting was an excellent opportunity to bring different disciplines involved in hospice care and social work together to identify where the gaps lie in research and what can be done to improve it. It was also an opportunity to bring together policymakers, advocates, and hospice professionals in one room.

“This meeting reinforced how important it is for social work to collaborate with other disciplines on research efforts,” Zlotnik said. “It’s important that we have a shared agenda that can be strengthened by collaboration.”

Participants at the meeting included NASW Executive Director Elizabeth J. Clark and senior staff, the NASW Foundation, the NASW Center for Workforce Studies, the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization, the Nation Cancer Institute, the National Institute of Nursing Research, CMS, and several hospice organizations and schools of social work.

A final report from the meeting, including a goal-setting agenda, will be published through SWPI.

The March meeting was the second conference hosted by the institute. A report from its first meeting, “Social Work Research and Comparative Effectiveness Research: A Research Symposium to Strengthen the Connection,” can be downloaded for free at the The Social Work Policy Institute Website.