Not Just a Job

Mar 21, 2024

Dana Casadei, Media Relations Specialist

For over 20 years David Barrett has worked as an Angela Hospice social worker, and has been thankful for every moment of it.

“I love the different interactions that we have with our patients and families, to assist them during one of the most difficult times of life,” David said.

Hospice social workers do this through providing counseling, advocacy, resources, and education to patients, families, and caregivers. They are there to ease fears, empower those they work with, and ultimately, help to make a patients’ wishes come true, no matter the setting they’re in, ranging from home care to our on-site Care Center.

They do all they can to enhance the care of quality hospice patients receive.

As a home care social worker David sees patients and their families in their space, where they can truly be themselves, and what forces really interact with the patients and their care.

He’s been able to provide so much vital education for patients and their families, truly letting them know that he’s there for them and their needs, and that they aren’t alone on this journey.

David Barrett

“We’re trying to get to the root of what your concerns are for your loved one and for yourself, and honor those by making those plans come to fruition,” he said.

And while making those plans come about is important, David has also learned over the years that things don’t always go according to schematics, and that’s ok too.

“I’m learning that there’s always things to learn in the process, and to never become lackadaisical in terms of taking care of patients and expectations,” he said.

There’s so much beauty to be found in the work David and the other Angela Hospice social workers do, which may come as a surprise, but not to David. He sees it in his patients regularly.

“A woman I saw recently… she didn’t let things stop her,” David said. “She was able to beam out her sense of hope, a sense of purpose, of joy, and doing what she could do for God. You could just see it, like sunshine in a dark room.”

How much laughter that can be found as a hospice social worker may be a surprise to many as well. It was even a surprise to Kelly Kovach-Collicott, who has been a social worker primarily in the Care Center at Angela Hospice for 11 years.

“There’s a lot of good memories that we help bring up for people or that come up as we’re talking,” Kelly said. “Or we’ll ask a question, and the patient or family look at each other and chuckle because it leads somewhere totally unexpected.”

Expecting the unexpected is key to any role in social work, especially in hospice, where no two days are ever the same, no two patients or families are alike either.

Kelly Kovach-Collicott

Neither are the journeys a social worker takes to get to become a hospice social worker.

For Kelly – who comes from a very service driven family – her career took some left and right turns before finishing up her Master of Social Work program in 2011, but she always knew it was something she wanted to pursue, and Kelly always knew hospice was the end goal.

Her former co-workers knew this as well, and they were the ones to tell her there was an opening for a social work position at Angela Hospice, a place she was long familiar with having grown up Catholic and in Detroit.

“I think, having had sudden losses in my life, I knew the value of having time,” Kelly said. “So to be able to help people make it the best time possible, I thought it was important.”

In her role, Kelly gets to offer patients and families relief, and is able to let them know about the services Angela Hospice offers, or advice for something they may be struggling with while on their own hospice journey.

She’s allowing patients and families to have that time together, to concentrate on each other.

“In social work they always say ‘meet them where they’re at,’ and that’s what we have to do, is just meet them where they’re at,” Kelly said.

Social workers need to meet themselves where they’re at too before going into social work, much like Keely Rhiannon did before she became a grief care counselor at Angela Hospice.

Keely Rhiannon

Even while Keely worked in an emergency room and through her time as a physical therapy assistant, one thing kept coming up in every field she worked in: grief and her desire to hear everyone’s story.

“As I was exploring myself and what I wanted to do, and then started volunteering at hospice, I realized there’s nowhere else; I would be honored to work at hospice,” she said. “I feel like in a lot of ways, I’m ready to do it now.”

“Doing this work, especially as a grief counselor, I think it takes a level of knowing yourself,” Keely continued. “It takes a certain amount of positionality to know where I end and my clients begin, and I have to be able to use my experiences and my skill set, and also leave my own baggage behind me so I can show up authentically.”

Her work as a grief care counselor is actually a dream come true for Keely.

Someone once asked Keely what her dream job would be. If she didn’t have to worry about how much money it paid or the type of education she would need, what would Keely do if she were given limitless possibilities?

“I said I would love to hear people’s stories and help them make sense of them,” Keely said. “I think one of the most amazing privileges of this work is being able to be put in positions where you get to hear people’s stories, and you get to witness them in a way that is profoundly sacred.”

Even though there is sadness and a heaviness in the stories she hears, there’s also a lot of moments of joy, moments of laughter too, in the grief groups she leads and in her one-on-one sessions.

“This isn’t just a job, it’s a privilege,” she said.

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