Lisa Ashley, MSW

“Fierce advocate” Lisa Ashley finds her calling in hospice social work

September 2021

Lisa AshleyLisa Ashley never dreamed she’d be working in hospice care. With her children mostly grown, she returned to school at age 49 to earn her Master of Social Work. “My intent was to work with people with developmental disabilities,” says Lisa. “That’s where my life experience had been, and that’s where my initial internship and job were.”

But when she met an 8-year-old boy in hospice care and watched his mom struggle with the complications of the health care system, something clicked.

Lisa had witnessed medical care that reduces patients to numbers on charts – and she knew that her experience advocating for herself and her children could be useful. “When I saw what this family was going through, it all came together for me. I am a fierce advocate, and I wanted to help them navigate the system.” So when she was ready to do an internship in her second year of school, she reached out to Mission Hospice.

Director of Social Work Karri Kaiser says that the agency wasn’t planning on having an intern in 2020, given the upheaval of the pandemic. “When Lisa found out we weren’t hiring interns, she asked for an informational interview,” says Karri. “We were so impressed – she’s a really holistic thinker. She’s very, very good at drawing people out, and she was determined to do hospice work. We told her it wouldn’t be a typical internship, and she didn’t hesitate.”

Lisa started her social work internship with Mission Hospice in June 2020 – what she calls “the absolute worst time” – and despite this, says she “fell in love with the organization.” 

Lisa Ashley and Karri Kaiser talkingLisa credits the entire Mission Hospice team, and especially Karri, for the solid training she received as an intern. “Karri gives me so much support – her door is always open. I learned so much from the other social workers, from the nurses, from the home health aides. The education at Mission Hospice is unparalleled.”

After graduation, Lisa had job interviews and offers elsewhere, but said “nothing felt like Mission Hospice.” When Karri was ready to add to her team, both she and Lisa knew it was meant to be.

“While there are a growing number of for-profit organizations that make a business of death and dying, that’s not what hospice should be about,” she says. “As a community-based nonprofit, Mission Hospice always focuses on what the patients and families need. Hospice social work is what I am meant to be doing, and this is where I belong.”

Lisa says her approach to care is framed by her experience raising a son who’s on the autism spectrum and dealing with his mental health diagnoses.

“When your kid’s mind works in a different way, your job is to show people that there is no one way to be – there is no box. That extends to everything, including the end of life. There is no one way to go through it. Every person is unique; every experience is unique. There’s beauty in that.”

Lisa approaches each patient with an open mind, listening for where she is needed. “My goal is to learn as much as I can about each person. What’s important to them? What gives their life meaning?”

Our social workers aim to honor each person’s individual experience and journey. “We’re not here to tell you how you’re supposed to approach the end of life, or how you’re supposed to feel about that journey,” says Lisa. “We’re here to find out where you are and what you want – and do our best to support that.” 

“We surround babies and the birth process with so much support,” she says. “But when it comes to death, many people don’t want to even talk about it. It is the culmination of your life – literally the final act. Why shouldn’t that be however you want it?”   

Our monthly email newsletter offers inspiration, support, and news about our events and programs Sign Up Here!