Lives left in caring hands?— A conversation with a palliative care social worker

by Jourdan Hicks

Tanisha Bowman is a support and palliative care social worker who serves within the UPMC Hospitals network. From the Source Host Jourdan Hicks speaks with Tanisha about the barriers that race and bias present for people faced with carrying out a loved one’s end-of-life wishes (or advance directives).The misuse of control by practitioners and the continuing legacy of distrust between Black Americans and medical care providers complicates an already fraught situation that most people are outright unprepared for.

Jourdan: It’s a massive job to support patients and their loved ones facing life-limiting illnesses and end-of-life decision-making and care. It’s something you may not think about often for yourself, but when we’re at the end of our lives and decisions need to be made about our care and how we transition, we’re going to need a representative to make those decisions for us.

Jourdan: In our previous episode of From The Source, you met Heather Bradley, executive director of Pittsburgh Bereavement Doulas. It was a conversation about how we can improve the environment in our city, at work and socially for families experiencing the loss of a pregnancy or an infant. This week, I super-duper look forward to you experiencing the thought-provoking conversation I had with Tanisha Bowman.

Tanisha: You know, dying sucks, but we’re all doing it and none of us are prepared for it. I’m not even really prepared for it as much as I talk, but I don’t know.

Jourdan: Tanisha is a support and palliative care social worker in hospitals within the UPMC network. Tanisha’s work is essential. She’s the one who walks loved ones of a person who is dying through decisions you’ll need to make about the medical care, medical directives, needs discussions and assessment needed to transition you to the end of your life on your behalf. The UPMC palliative support team Tanisha works with includes doctors, nurses, psychologists, social workers and clergy members. Occasionally, she gets asked to work with families who look like her Black families. So the palliative care support team can provide care and communicate in a way that is culturally aware and clear of miscommunication. At least that’s the way Tanisha describes it as her understanding of why she’s called in and when she’s called to meet with families.

Tanisha: I personally am only going to go if I feel that I’m going to be able to provide some sort of comfort or companionship. If the hospital has done something that has led this family to believe that race is an issue in their care, I go in and I’m like, I align with them in a way, because a lot of times they’re right, you know. But I also have to toe this line of being the employee at the hospital that’s not supposed to like talk shit about my employer, but, you know, aligning with them and hearing them out and and probably being one person that’s going to authentically acknowledge their experience, not a uh huh , uh huh, okay it’s like. Yeah, yeah, I know. I see it. I see it all the time, you know, like I can do that, but I think sometimes I assume that that’s everybody’s reason for for pulling me in.


Episode 14, Season 2: Lives left in caring hands?— A conversation with a palliative care social worker


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