March 22, 2022
March is National Social Work Month: Meet EveryStep's Mary Jo McLain
EveryStep’s Mary Jo McLain say she has no idea what she does. And of course, she says that with a wink.
As an EveryStep social worker since 2008, Mary Jo says it’s difficult to adequately describe the many roles and responsibilities she juggles daily.
“I am the ‘non-medical’ staff — meaning that unlike the nurse and aide, my role is less defined. I am there to provide emotional support for the patient, family or anyone in the patient’s life who might need it. I am going to be the one to listen and help problem-solve when an issue seems overwhelming. I am the cheerleader – reminding the patient to take those naps and to enjoy the little things in life or encouraging the caregiver to take a well-needed break so she or he can recharge to do it all again. At times, I am the one to step in when tension is high and someone needs to help facilitate the hard conversations between family members. At times my role is to advocate for the patient — to help the patient’s voice be heard over [the voices of] staff, family and friends. My role changes with the needs of each patient and family,” explains Mary Jo, with EveryStep Hospice's Centerville team.
Mary Jo embraces the fact that a social worker’s role is always temporary in another person’s life, regardless of the industry or work setting. She says whether working with the homeless, teaching child development or working with individuals at the end of life, each situation culminates with the person “graduating” from a social worker’s services. As a social worker, Mary Jo says saying goodbye to individuals and families is part of the job.
That doesn’t mean it is depressing.
Mary Jo finds joy in helping individuals and their families through moments that matter – including the dying process. “It is so humbling to be around someone who is processing in a healthy way. As a member of the team, I get to be part of the journey and it is amazing to see the joy of life through another person’s eyes. Prior to hospice, I think I took many moments for granted. I find joy in watching a family or patient find peace and acceptance of things that cannot be controlled. I am lucky to get to be part of the journey.”
The journey sometimes teaches Mary Jo unexpected lessons. “I had a patient and wife both in a facility. The husband had been a ‘fire and brimstone’ preacher. His wife was so quiet and calm. This patient would always preach and share his beliefs with others. At times he seemed paranoid — he told everyone he knew his wife was going to die before him. He watched her at all times,” remembers Mary Jo. When medical needs required the couple to sit at different tables for lunch, he was very upset. “He said he was going to die right after her and they needed to be together, but his wife was fine.”
One day his wife fell while walking to lunch and hit her head. She was taken to an outside medical provider, but the family had her return to the facility the same day because her husband was so agitated. “He stated God told him they needed to be together when she died,” remembers Mary Jo. “As crazy as it sounds, he was right. His wife died shortly after returning to the facility and her husband died a few hours later.
“This sticks out because I always documented that he was not alert and oriented due to his ‘crazy’ ramblings about his wife going to die and God saying he would follow shortly afterwards. This patient taught me to not assume someone is delusional just because something does not follow what I felt was logical.”
As a hospice social worker, Mary Jo is committed to making each patient and family comfortable and comforted. “My role is to walk beside the patient and family on this final journey, helping with emotional support and helping to navigate the resources available to meet the patient’s needs. My faith makes it so much easier for me. I do not see death as the end. Just the beginning of another journey.”
If you are interested in joining the EveryStep team, visit https://www.everystep.org/careers. If you or someone you know needs care or support, complete the confidential "Find Care" form at www.everystep.org/find-care. The form sends a message to EveryStep staff who then follow up with a phone call. It's a great way to start a conversation and get answers with no cost or commitment. EveryStep can connect the individual to its own programs and services that may be helpful, as well as services offered by other organizations and providers in the community.