The University Record, October 17, 1994

Working with Hospice a positive experience for social work interns

By Rebecca A. Doyle

“Society sees dying as ominous and scary,” says Diane Trew, an intern at Hospice of Washtenaw. “But this is something people should talk about. Everybody asks me if it isn’t depressing working with people who are dying, but I’ve worked with victims of sexual assault and abused teens, too. Which is more depressing?”

Trew and fellow intern Kelly Snod-grass work through Hospice of Washtenaw with terminally ill patients and their families to make them comfortable and to maintain a supportive and comfortable environment either in the home or in a nursing facility.

The two interns are graduate students in the School of Social Work and part of a team of nurses, counselors and medical staff at Hospice.

“I would love to do this after the internship and after I finish school,” says Trew, who is in her first year of internship. “I volunteered here before, and I like the idea of people being able to spend the last weeks at home.

“Death lets you know you have no control over anything, and it is important for the people we see to keep any control as long and as much as they can. We talk to them, find out what we can help them do with the time that’s left.”

Snodgrass has logged more than 900 hours at Hospice and has an average case load of nine patients. She will finish her internship this year.

“I have always enjoyed working with the elderly,” she says. “I believe in keeping the elderly in the community, but it isn’t always the easiest thing to do. And I always wondered what Hospice would be like. It is definitely something I want to do when I leave here.

“It is empowering to patients to know they have a choice to die at home with their family caring for them.”

Hospice of Washtenaw currently has a case load of more than 50 patients and is one of several facilitating institutions that provide teams that make home visits, prescribe pain-relieving medications and act as a resource for legal, medical and financial questions the families may have.

The interns visit homes as often as once a week or as little as once a month, depending on needs of the patients and families.

“Hospice requires that there be someone with the patient at all times,” notes Snodgrass. “It doesn’t always have to be the same person, but there has to be someone there. And this is a fairly new concept. Doctors and families don’t always know what is available.”

Caring for a dying relative at home is not for everyone. Trew says that one reason there may not be more home care for dying patients is that the traditional caregiver, who may be a daughter or sister of the patient, must be working to help support her own family.

“But one of the advantages of a hospice program is that they don’t feel they have to stick to those traditions,” says Trew, noting that when her father was dying, home care was provided by her brother.

“When they first assess the situation, the team looks at what would work best for the whole family,” she says. “And the definition of family is a very broad one that can include very close friends or neighbors.”

Both Trew and Snodgrass say that working as interns at Hospice of Washtenaw has been a positive experience.

“It is an honor to be in these homes during such an intimate time,” Trew says. “I want to do everything I can to make these last days more meaningful for these people. It is a time of transition, another cycle of life for the whole family.”

Hospice of Washtenaw is a funded agency of the Washtenaw United Way, receiving both donor-designated money and a distribution from the general campaign. In the past year, Hospice has served 300 families, and currently has a patient caseload of 58. Hospice of Washtenaw has been operating for 12 years.

The University campaign for United Way has reached $465,040, 46.5 percent of the $1 million goal.