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Long career in social work led Carolyn Rocha to Carroll Hospice

Carolyn Rocha
Carolyn Rocha(Handout)

Social Worker Carolyn Rocha has been with Carroll Hospice for just more than a year, but she has already had a huge impact at the facility, which cares for people in their last months of life and supports their families.

"Carolyn Rocha has quickly become an integral member of the Carroll Hospice team," said spokeswoman Simone Lindsay. "Her quiet and calming manner is very much appreciated, as is her dedication to her role. She continually volunteers to help her coworkers."

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Rocha was recently named one of six Hospice Heroes in advance of the annual A Taste of Carroll event, a food and drink fundraiser that supports hospice in its mission.

Working with hospice patients and their families may be a fairly new role for Rocha, but it is the result of a long journey, a more than 30-year career in social work that eventually led her to working with older adults at the end of their lives.

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The Times recently caught up with Rocha to lean more about the path that led her to Carroll Hospice and the work she does there.

Q: How does it feel to be named a Hospice hero?

A: Well I am certainly honored to have been named that. I am new to hospice, I have only been here a year so it was certainly a surprise that that happened.

Q: What did you do prior to coming to Carroll Hospice and how you got involved?

A: I have been a social worker since 1983, so I have been in the field a long time, but I've done other kinds of social work. I did individual counseling for a long number of years and about five years ago I felt a strong pull to work with the elderly and at that point I went and got a certificate from Hopkins in aging to add to my social work degree and then went and got my geriatric nursing assistant certificate because I wanted some hands-on experience to become more comfortable working with the physical side of aging, because I hadn't worked with elderly people to any extent before that. Then I did some hands-on work in the field. I actually worked for a geriatric nursing assistant for a couple of years working with the Right at Home agency, and I worked with low-income folks in the Westminster area as a nursing assistant. Then I wanted to get back and combine my social work back again with the geriatric training and that's when the hospice position became available and I was fortunate enough to take it and be accepted. It was kind of a winding journey I made into elder care, but I am very happy to be in it now.

Q: What have been the most surprising and or rewarding things you've experienced working with older patients and at Carroll Hospice?

A: I find that the end of life, often families and patients are very open to change. They are willing to take some risks and maybe put down some old walls that have been up for many, many years in families. Oftentimes there is reconciliation between estranged family members and that is very rewarding to see that happen for people.

I guess I am saddened by the reality that many people don't get into hospice care until they are very near the end of their live. There is a misconception that hospice means I am gonna die next week. But, really, hospice care is for a diagnosis where two physicians feel the person is probably going to die within six months and there are not a whole lot of people that we get who take advantage of that whole six months. That can be a very rich time when these reconciliations can happen, people can really work through their grief and do the end of life work they want to do with people. But when people come into hospital, two to three days before they die, not a lot can happen except to support people through that very intense end of life time. But that doesn't give a lot of time to work with families and patients to a deeper degree. I feel sad for people who have missed that, because I think hospice can give a lot of comfort and support to families and patients for months before the person dies.

But I have been very pleased to see how well our team works together at hospice. Each person has a nurse, a social worker, a chaplain, an aid and volunteers that kind of surround the person with attention and love and we work very well together, I think, in our teams. That's when people get the most out of hospice care, and it's nice to work with colleagues who are so committed. That's very rewarding.

Q: It sounds like if there was one thing you wished people understood about hospice that they may not, it would be that message that they can come to hospice much, much sooner than they may realize?

A: Absolutely. Yes, I do think there are a lot of misconceptions. People don't want to put that person in hospice care because they don't want Grandpa to think he is going to die next week. Well, that's not — it's care for people who no longer want to actively treat whatever their illness is, they are done with the treating and fixing, and they are into the ... there is really nothing more medicine can do and it's time to take the life I have left and live it to the fullest. At hospice, we try really hard to give people the quality time, that is the goal, to make whatever time they have left really good time. They are physically comfortable and emotionally supported so they can really enjoy that time and not be going in and out of the hospital for chemo, all that they were doing. All that stops and we just take care of people in their homes or in the facility they might be living in. Patients love it because all of a sudden they don't have to go out anymore for all these appointments and they can just rest.

Q: When someone comes to hospice, they have often been doing a lot of that sort of thing, spending time in the hospital? Going to appointments?

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A: Yes, yes, and they are usually exhausted. They are already not well and to be dragged out to all these appointments? Oh my gosh. In the winter just getting from the parking lot of the hospital to the hospital is an exhausting event and it takes them all day to recover from it. They are going to two, three, four appointments a week; it just becomes their entire lives are focused on these visits.

Q: Why should people considering coming out to A Taste of Carroll on May 1?

A: We love to do things to provide extra services to people who can't afford them. Insurance covers most of hospice but there are some things it doesn't cover, such as letting people take a short trip to visit a relative. We love to do those special kinds of things to make the end of life even more fun and memorable for everybody. Any money that we get donated can certainly help out in those kinds of situations for people and that is rewarding.

A lot of us work very hard and put in extra hours and the extra funds just make it easier for us to extend our services a little further by having camps for bereavement — kids who have gone through losses, we have a camp in the summer for them. It helps fund that sort of thing, bereavement support groups, things that are just so helpful for people during the process.

A Taste of Carroll is a wonderful event in terms of the food is terrific and you meet some really interesting people who are supporting the cause.

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410-857-3317

If You Go

What: The 18th annual A Taste of Carroll fundraiser for Carroll Hospice

When: 6-9 p.m. Monday, May 1

Where: Carroll Hospital East Pavilion, 291 Stoner Ave., Westminster

Cost: $85

To purchase tickets or for more information, go to www.carrollhospice.org/Taste-of-Carroll or call 410-871-7220.



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