Barbara Ehrenpreis ’04, M.S.W. ’09 brings much-needed care and comfort to her clients in hospice care.
“Every life is equally important. Every person is equally deserving of dying with respect and dignity.”
by Ela Schwartz
Ask social workers why they chose their profession and you’ll likely hear that they wanted to help their clients improve their lives. But the role of Barbara Ehrenpreis ’04, M.S.W. ’09, is to use her social work skills to ease her clients’ final days.
Ms. Ehrenpreis works as a medical social worker for Hospice Care Network (HCN). Presently she is based at North Shore-LIJ Health System Manhasset hospital as the HCN social worker. As part of an interdisciplinary team, she collaborates to develop a plan of care for the patient. She visits the patient to provide emotional support and coping strategies, works with community resources as needed and educates patients and families about advance directives. She also follows up with surviving loved ones and children and assesses the need for hospice bereavement services.
Most of us picture hospice patients as elderly, but this is not necessarily the case. “Hospice provides services to all ages,” she explains. Her clients have included a 28-year-old woman with four children and a 102-year-old nursing home patient.
No matter how long or eventful, “Every life is equally important,” she said. “Every person is equally deserving of dying with respect and dignity. I feel privileged to be able to work with this population and offer social work supportive care to the patients and their families at the end of life.
“The social workers in HCN are the most amazing people,” she continued. “You can’t be the type of social worker who wants to receive thanks, because the person will never say thank you. You really do this type of social work with pure motives. It’s the highest giving of yourself.”
Ms. Ehrenpreis was a stay-at-mother before coming to Adelphi in her late forties. In the M.S.W. program, she experienced a range of field placements, from the Adelphi University School of Social Work Breast Cancer Program to a lockdown psychiatric unit to working with the elderly to HCN. Deciding hospice was where she wanted to be “wasn’t a matter of finding myself,” she explained. “It was where I felt the most need for social workers.”
Reaching her goal presented its share of challenges. While a graduate student, Ms. Ehrenpreis’ young-adult daughter, who was then living in Arizona, was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. She credits the flexibility of Adelphi’s M.S.W. program for allowing her to travel between New York and Arizona in order to support her daughter while completing her course work. Happily, the flexibility of the program also enabled her to be there for her daughter’s wedding and the birth of her first child.
As a steering committee member of the National Association of Social Workers New York State (NASW-NYS) Nassau Division, Ms. Ehrenpreis was instrumental in forming a scholarship committee so that students who lack the financial means can get the education she so highly prizes.
She’d like to see more people informed of end-of-life issues and the role of hospice and for death to no longer be a taboo topic. “Everyone dies,” she stated. “Death needs to be normalized. Society needs to be taught about facing the end of life.”
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