November 10, 2008

Research partnership between Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences and Hospice of Western Reserve works to improve the lives of caregivers of dying family members


A community partnership between the Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences at Case Western Reserve University and the Hospice of the Western Reserve has designed a new assessment tool to guide social workers in helping caregivers of older adults who are dying at home.

The Hospice of the Western Reserve, one of the nation's largest nonprofit hospice care organizations and the largest nonprofit hospice in Ohio, provides support for the dying and their families during the end of life period.

In addition to the needs of those who are dying, social workers are seeing family members suffer from financial, physical, social, emotional and spiritual strain associated with home care and watching a family member die.

"We designed a set of questions for social workers to ask caregivers about the kinds of strains experienced and what resources individuals have to take them through this difficult time," said Aloen Townsend, associate professor of social work at the university.

The collaborative process and its outcomes were explained in the Journal of Gerontological Social Work article, "The FACES Project: An Academic-Community Partnership to Improve End-of-Life Care for Families." The article appeared as a case study of academic-community collaboration in a special issue that focused on community partnerships and how they can work.

Townsend is the lead author with Karen Ishler (Case Western Reserve doctoral student) and Elizabeth Vargo, Beth Shapiro, Elizabeth Pitorak and Carol Matthews from the Hospice of Western Reserve. The research was funded by a Social Work Leadership Development Award from the Project on Death in America of the Open Society Institute.

FACES is the name of the Family Assessment Collaboration to Enhance End-of-Life Support project. It was developed in the joint university-hospice collaboration in recognition that families are an essential source of support for most adults facing death.

According to Townsend, the two organizations felt that something more needed to be done for caregivers. Starting from that goal, the group built FACES by drawing from the expertise of a research university with knowledge about research design, methods and protections of human subjects and their rights. The Hospice of the Western Reserve contributed with their clinical expertise working directly with families during end of life.

The group designed 24 questions to find out what level of emotional, physical, social, financial and spiritual strains is experienced by caregivers, and the resources available to support them. During the FACES project, 18 social workers provided 162 family members with the questionnaire during the social workers' first visit.

Implementation of the assessment as part of routine practice is under consideration by the Hospice of Western Reserve.

"These questions can be helpful in getting conversations with the caregivers started— especially on subjects like financial strain, which social workers might hesitate to ask about so quickly," said Townsend.

Eventually, both organizations hope another outcome from the academic-community partnership is the adoption of these assessments by social workers at other hospices across the country.

For more information contact Susan Griffith, 216.368.1004.

Posted by: Kimyette Finley, November 10, 2008 12:42 PM | News Topics: Collaborations/Partnerships, Community Outreach, Faculty, Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences, Provost Initiatives, Research, Students

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