Social Worker: Carissa Ferguson
Watch Carissa Ferguson's employee spotlight here:
Carissa Ferguson's Story
Carissa Ferguson, a social worker at Hospice of Washington County, has always been drawn to helping others. She worked in mental health and therapy and addiction. Then a personal loss brought her to the work of hospice.
"I lost my father four years ago," she says. "Just knowing that people were there for me and my family at the end of his life was helpful and comforting. You can't make it better, you can’t halt the imminent loss, but to just be there with people who understand was very helpful and valuable."
One role, many hats
In her current role, she is responsible for giving patients the support they need through ongoing emotional support, in-person meetings, and end-of-life planning. She helps older patients with progressive disease get placed in nursing homes. And she helps families work through end-of-life planning decisions, such as identifying funeral homes and working through their expenses.
"We are with the patients and their loved ones throughout the journey of death and dying, supporting them as they struggle to manage those stressors from day to day. We are there so they know that they're not alone.”
Carissa finds social work in hospice humbling and rewarding. She appreciates that she has a different perspective on death than many other young people have. "Death can be a taboo topic and hospice work normalizes it for me," she says.
She is grateful for the people she gets to work with and learn from. "I've met incredible people and feel honored to be a part of their end-of-life journey," she says. "I've had a patient who was a Holocaust survivor and I've met a number of veterans who have served in different wars.”
Commitment to social work
There’s a special role that Carissa treasures: wish requests. "We put together something special for patients and their families towards end of life. Sometimes it's as simple as giving a patient and their spouse some type of wedding anniversary celebration as they get to celebrate one final time. This past Christmas I had a patient who was quite young, she had two young boys. She was so ill that she couldn't do Christmas shopping for her boys. So we did that for her, to help her give her children a really good last Christmas."
Though social workers provide many services, Carissa is aware that some people have misconceptions that make them apprehensive about hospice care. “I think it’s important for people to know that we are here to support you, we're on your team. We're here to advocate for you to make sure that you feel heard," she says. "If I could highlight just one important aspect of our job, it's that it's important for people to know that they're not alone."
Perseverance and family
Outside of work, Carissa enjoys spending time with her growing family. She is the oldest of four children, and she is currently expecting her first child.
"Going through a tough time like the loss of our father really tests people. It can pull and push you apart. I think that's okay as long as you come back to each other," she says.