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The Cavalry Arrives: Life as an In-Home Hospice Social Worker

The caregiver-patient relationship is what really makes home healthcare work. There needs to be a mutual trust, respect and understanding between both parties. Not to mention, the home healthcare professional needs to have a solid relationship with the patient’s families and other caregivers.

At Visiting Nurse Association of Ohio, no one models this better than Laura Camp-Smith, a hospice social worker.

“Laura is an extremely passionate and dedicated social worker to the hospice team and to all of her patients,” Dee Dee Sanyi, VNA of Ohio’s Hospice Resource Manager said. “She treats all with the utmost respect and kindness not matter the situation.”

Early Life

Camp-Smith never set out to be a social worker. After majoring in dance and theatre at Akron University, she moved to Chicago where she worked as a forensic Crisis Intervention Specialist for the Chicago Police Department. There, she made the decision to get her masters in social work at Loyola University.

She fell into social work when she realized that she was very good at working with people in hard situations. “What came easy to me, seemed to be something people valued,” she said.

In 2000, she moved back to Ohio to work the Cuyahoga County jail as a social worker with an interest in reducing the women’s rate of recidivism.

Personal Experience with Hospice

Then, her life changed very dramatically. In 2007, she found herself as the primary caregiver for both of her parents who were suffering from cancer. Her dad had been diagnosed a few years before but was recently declining. Her mother was diagnosed with aggressive lung cancer and declined over the span of seven months. With a young family and her parents living an hour away, the VNA Hospice coming in was a huge relief.

“Hospice came in and saved me,” she remembered. “All I wanted to do was to do that for someone else.”

After her parents died in 2007, she started volunteering with the Hospice program at VNA of Ohio. Then, she began working part-time at VNA.

“I love it. It’s very unpredictable,” she said. “I get to meet new people, go into someone’s home and hear their stories … I get to be part of people’s lives at a time in their lives that no one else wants to talk about.”

Life as a Hospice Social Worker

In a nutshell, Camp-Smith takes care of anything related to end-of-life that’s non-medical. With the patients and their families, she listens to their goals and then works with them achieve those goals. “Their goals are our goals. Period,” she said. 

Sometimes, it’s simply companionship that patients or the family needs. “Our service is being a human and just spending time with them,” she said. “We’re a different breath coming in the door. One woman told us, ‘my Cavalry has arrived.’”

Camp-Smith plays many different roles for each patient.

One man asked her to speak at his funeral before he died.

Another woman asked Camp-Smith to help her celebrate her date of diagnosis because it had changed her life so much.

Every Tuesday, a patient’s daughter makes a cake for her.

One of her patients, a woman, waited for Camp-Smith to arrive before she died.

Camp-Smith attends her patients’ memorials as much as possible. She also runs the Pancreatic Cancer Run. She tries to celebrate life as much as possible.

“It’s weird because you build a relationship with the patient and then they die. That part never gets easier,” she said. “But, when patients tell me their stories, I get to go with them in those stories. I’ve been to all these places in time. I’ve been everywhere.”


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Learn more about Visiting Nurse Association of Ohio's Hospice program, or call us today at 1-877-698-6264. 


Photo: Laura Camp-Smith, hospice social worker at VNA of Ohio (photo credit: Thien Nguyen)

Topics: Hospice Articles hospice-articles

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