Social Worker Penny Mathe of HopiceWits and Suncoast Hospice Physician Amy Post-Grady, DO visit at Empath Health.

HospiceWits Social Worker Penny Mathe and Suncoast Hospice Physician Amy Post-Grady, DO visit at a tea in Mathe’s honor at Empath Health.

Doing so much with so little to take care of a community in hardship is a constant challenge for our sister South African hospice – HospiceWits. There are extreme needs of HIV care, hospice care, food, medications and much more. At times, their work can seem overwhelming. But, through hope and determination, they push forward with their mission.

A Community in Need

“We serve a very big area. There are lots of people living in shacks with no running water or electricity. It becomes difficult when you have to go out and see patients but don’t have the resources. Most of our patients are in need of food and we’ll bring them small food parcels of basic food staples to get them by. Many people don’t have insurance and can’t afford hospice services. We rely a lot on donations,” shared HospiceWits social worker Penny Mathe at a leadership meeting at Suncoast Hospice and Empath Health.

This was Mathe’s second trip to the U.S. through our hospice partnership’s staff exchange. Her visit included meetings and outings with several of our staff, volunteers and teams as well as presenting her doctorate’s research at a Social Work Hospice and Palliative Care Network conference in Chicago.

Mathe joined HospiceWits in 2010. She is one of two social workers who care for a combined 800 hospice patients in the Johannesburg-Soweto area of South Africa. Her specialty is play therapy and other care for children with HIV.

Extensive Care and Challenges

HospiceWits provides multiple services and support to its patients, families, staff and community, including pediatric and adult inpatient care; home care; psychosocial support; children’s day care; meals; skills work for patients (beading, gardening, sewing, etc.); fundraising thrift shops; training; and more. Team members include a doctor, counselor, home care nurses, social workers, community care workers and volunteers. After their clinical meetings in the mornings, the teams set out in the community to provide care. For many, it means walking many miles to several patients’ homes in a wide and often dangerous region.

The hospice’s tireless work comes with numerous obstacles in the community, including high unemployment rates; high-risk areas; shortage of equipment; lack of food and clothing; drug, alcohol and child abuse; children-lead households because of parents’ deaths; and stigma of HIV and hospice, Mathe explained. “There’s stigma about being HIV-positive or being around hospice. Some think our staff has HIV. People don’t want to come in to a hospice center and would rather be cared for at home.”

Changing Lives with Care

On her visits, Mathe delivers food parcels, relays important medical information and offers emotional support to patients and families. She explained, “It’s difficult sometimes because you see a mom who has sick children and no money. Another challenge is hospital staff not always explaining to mothers that their children are dying, so sometimes I have to break the news to them. What gives me hope is helping a child or parent and seeing them smile. That makes me happy because it means I’ve facilitated some change in their lives. My duties as a social worker are to talk with patients about getting proper treatment and to be there for patients and families.”

Along her journey and through her community’s many challenges, she has remained committed to her work. Offering ongoing guidance is one of her biggest supporters, Stacy Orloff, PhD, EdD, LCSW, ACHP-SW, Empath Health Vice President of Innovation and Community Health and head of our partnership with HospiceWits.

“There were times when I wanted to give up because of the way things are in South Africa. Stacy has been there for me and encouraged me. I have a passion for palliative care and our community. I’m staying,” she said.

Partnership of Support

Our hospice partnership started in 2000 through Global Partners in Care (formerly known as Foundation for Hospices in Sub-Saharan Africa). Over the years, we’ve had several staff-exchange trips with another trip to the U.S. upcoming in May. Our staff, volunteers and community have also provided various professional, financial and other support.

“We’re very appreciative of everything you do to support us, from all of the medical supplies, training and resources. I’m always wondering what you see in us and why you care. You care for us,” Mathe said.

Make a Gift

Want to help Hospice Wits and the people of South Africa in need? You can make a difference by making a donation today to Suncoast Hospice Foundation. Visit our website to donate a gift specified for HospiceWits. Thank you for your support.