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Social Worker Finds Hope and Resiliency in End-of-Life Care 

Jaya Asthana, MSW, LICSW, is seeing a welcome change in the community. The anxiety that enveloped so many during the pandemic is turning to hope.

She likes to point out that you can find the word “hope” in “hospice” to which she’s dedicated many years of her career as a social worker.

“I tell people hospice is not for the dying, it’s for the living. It helps you have the best quality of life you will have,” she said. 

Jaya and other members of the hospice team strive to bring hope, comfort, and dignity to individuals and families during a difficult time of life, all the more complicated by COVID-19. During those first months of the pandemic, when there were so many unknowns, clinicians first had to “quiet down” their own fears and the possibility that they could bring the virus home to their families.

They also worked to reassure patients and families. Some were so afraid of the virus that they refused to let anyone into their homes, even though clinicians already practiced infection control and began wearing personal protective equipment during all patient care.

“We had to change our ways, and be very flexible. It wasn’t easy,” said Jaya.

One patient’s son was so afraid for his and his terminally ill mother’s well-being that he refused to let anyone from the hospice team inside their home. Jaya worked to make a connection with him over the phone. It took time, but the son began to trust Jaya and she counseled him on his fears. Before long, he welcomed the hospice nurse into their home.

When Jaya talks to people about her role on the hospice team, she often says, the patient’s illness is really a family illness. Her role as a social worker includes providing grief support to patients’ loved ones.

“The family doesn’t have the physical pain or shortness of breath or whatever other symptoms the patient is experiencing, but they do have the heartache, the sadness, and the tears. They’re also suffering,” said Jaya. “My role is to help you through whatever suffering you have.”

Jaya and her colleagues have employed telehealth to connect patients and loved ones when they can’t be together. Loved ones “were so grateful just to see that their family member was OK. I remember one woman was almost crying because she hadn’t seen her mother for so long,” said Jaya. “Just to be able to see her mother during the dying stages meant a lot to her. Those are the kind of things that really touch you.”

Jaya’s work has also given her the chance to see people’s extraordinary kindness and generosity. One man ran out of money and was being forced out of his home. He didn’t have any family, and his health was failing. The man’s health care proxy was his late mother’s home health aide. She took him into her home that she shared with her two young children and a nephew. She stopped working to care for him with the support of the hospice team until he passed away.

Perhaps the most important thing Jaya has observed during her hospice career is people’s resiliency. She said, “Most people somehow have the strength to come through…and look forward to life again. It’s really good to see.”

 

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